Are Pagan Zines — Like Vinyl Records — Coming Back?

I recently have purchased copies of two Pagan zines, and I am thinking about a couple more. (What is a zine? Read here.)

That is the most in years. Is this a trend? Is a small-press renaissance underway? A rebellion against the corporate social media of InstaFaceTwit etc. and their online “walled gardens”? They say vinyl records are outselling CD’s now, but that is more because CD sales have slumped than vinyl is rising, although vinyl has in fact risen in market share. Will zines come back too?

A saddle stapler for pamphlets, essential for zine publishers!

I used to have shelves of Pagan zines and a subscription to Factsheet Five, but the air leaked out of zine publishing in the late 1990s as people got used to the “World Wide Web,” which was free (or seemed to be) and where you could post your stuff without having to type or draw pages, take them to the copy shop, then collate, staple, and mail.

Before that, I’d been involved with a couple of literary zines, two Pagan zines not worth mentioning, and finally Fritz Muntean’s new, intellectually ambitious one: The Pomegranate: A New Journal of Neopagan Thought, which ended up as something else. Fritz flattered me by saying he was partly inspired by my short-lived (1984–86) effort, Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which you can now read online, all four issues of it.

Some examples: Edited by Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, who is interviewed here, Hellebore is published in Bristol (UK), and leans heavily towards folk horror, folk witchcraft, myth, and psychogeography. Issues are £6.75 (US $9.58) plus postage.

She grew up in a fertile environment for a zine editor, and she has an MA in archaeology from Bristol University (What do you do with an MA? Write a lot and start your own journal.)

I grew up in a fairly bookish home and I don’t remember not writing. As a child I used to make my own magazines, with comics I drew and articles I wrote. My dad was into ancient history and mythology, and my mum has always been a bit of an anglophile, and it probably rubbed off on me. My mum told me a lot of fairy tales, and what really fascinated me was the magic. You know, the witch, the magic mirror, the curses. A bit later I became obsessed with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, partly because of the settings (the moors, the Cornish coast, the ancient ruins), and with Sherlock Holmes

I bought issue #3, The Malefice Issue, (“What has been buried ought not to return”) and was reminded of some of the older Pagan zines. The resemblance was intentional, for she says she wanted “the aesthetics to evoke that particular era, the late 60s and 70s, grabbing inspiration from Czech film posters, with a touch of psychedelia, and an old-school fanzine finish.”

Is it typical of connected life today that I followed Fiddler’s Green for months on Instagram before I got around to ordering a sample issue? It is the zine of “Art & magic for tea-drinking anarchists, convivial conjurors & closeted optimists,” with a mailing address in Berkeley, California. I bought volume 2, number 3, “Gods of the Afternoon,” which is $15 + postage.

Speaking of postage, alongwith the articles, listed here, was a table of postal rates, which warmed my heart, and — OMG real zine culture! — several pages of zine reviews! Further explorations await.

And speaking of vinyl, the issue included a 45 rpm flexi-disk of “Mushroom Madness” by Anton Barbeau, so I need to blow the dust off my old Technics turntable and learn what it sounds like.

The famous Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall, is re-opened post-COVID lockdown and also has a museum journal (I am calling it a zine too) called The Enquiring Eye, “that aims to showcase a wide range of research into all aspects of magical practise, witchcraft and the occult.” Issues are £5, and five have been published so far, with articles like “Wisdom from the Wilderness: Using the Fae to Re-enchant the Landscape in a Time of Crisis.” Table of contents for issue 5 here.

When it comes to vinyl record albums, says Charlie Randall, CEO of McIntosh Labs, “I think it’s natural for any generation to think that the technology of their time will be replaced by future technology and go extinct.”

In large part I think that’s the case except with vinyl records. There is something romantic about records, something satisfying about opening the album jacket, seeing the fantastic artwork and studying the liner notes while listening to the album. That’s something that today’s digital files just can’t replace.”

Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

Maria J. Pérez Cuervo agrees when it comes to print-on-paper:

So much of the content we consume these days is digital that print feels like a small luxury. And I wanted to make a beautiful object for everyone who loves these themes, because there wasn’t anything quite like it. Making it limited-run was partly a practical decision, but also, I think, reminiscent of a time when you didn’t have constant access to information. And you could be a little girl, catch a film halfway through on TV, and not know the name of it, but be haunted by it for life. And somehow this invests the film, or the book that you borrowed from the library but never found in any shops, with an almost mythical quality. Maybe in a few years there’ll be people saying “oh, do you remember that little zine?” Who knows?

Farewell to the “Bulletin”

M. declared that tonight’s dinner would be a farewell celebration.

I just sent an issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion to the printer and said goodbye to the sales rep with whom I have been working for a number of years. He is in Pennsylvania, and I have never met him. (We never felt the need for a Zoom or Skype conference either.)

This quarterly publication has been around for a while. I just completed volume 49 as production editor, and I started with volume 39, so I gave it a decade.

The Bulletin began as a publication of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion before being acquired by Equinox Publishing in 2009, shortly before I became involved.

For a time it was published “in affiliation” with the North American Association for the Study of Religion, a learned society that leans toward — as they put it — a “relentlessly reflexive critique of the theories, methods, and categories used in such study [of religion].”

Richard Newton, assistant professor of religious studies, U. of Alabama

Its current editor, Richard Newton of the University of Alabama (the third editor with whom I have worked), offers this brief history:

Some of you will know that the Bulletin began in 1971 under the auspices of The Council of Societies for the Study of Religion. Both the Bulletin and the Council brought together a diverse array of scholars and associations invested in the academic study of religion. The Bulletin played a crucial role in facilitating exchanges about how we study religion in the academy, especially against the backdrop of departments, guilds, and nations trying to determine their identity in relation to religion. After the Council disbanded in 2009, the Bulletin moved to Equinox Publishing where it remains one of the oldest ongoing publications in the academic study of religion in North America. [Then came the NAASR era.]

Earlier in 2020, Equinox and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama entered into an agreement to continue to bring you the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. And I’m honored to serve as editor in this chapter of the publication’s history. In this capacity, I am excited to carry forth a vision for the Bulletin that continues the tradition developed by all those who’ve contributed to it over the years.

As production editor, I had nothing to do with acquiring the content itself. My job was to clean up editorial problems, make sure the citations were in proper Chicago Author-Date format, typeset it, proofread it, and produce an issue whose total page count was a number divisible by four.

I worked with several editors and watched the pendulum swing between issues full of papers and reviews that could have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal and articles more focused on issues of definition, of techniques of teaching, and on that most enduring question, “What can you do with a PhD in religious studies besides teaching?” (Quite a few things, actually, but they may not be obvious.)

In Professor Newton’s words, “The Bulletin is unique in that it offers a forum for various academic voices to debate and reflect on the ever-changing state of the field, and insofar as it encourages scholars continually to engage meta-level questions at the leading edge of inquiry.”

If I had a problem, it was “mission creep.” The print issue became a print-and-online issue. Well, making PDFs of the print articles is easy enough. Then the publisher started making noises about a fully HTML online issue. My Web-design skills are about early-2000s level, and I did not want to invest in more software and to climb the learning curve.

It was more about time than money, really. The money has been helpful and the content was interesting, but I want to spend more time on The Pomegranate and on other Pagan studies-related editorial and writing projects. I have worked with Richard Newton on a year’s worth of issues now, and I like what he is doing with the Bulletin, but it is time for me to concentrate on other things.

Joining Folklore: The Electronic Journal of Folklore

The Estonian Literary Museum, Tartu

Last month I accepted an invitation to join the editorial board of Folklore: The Electronic Journal of Folklore, which is published by the Estonian Literary Museum in the city of Tartu.

They have not yet updated the website, but you know how that goes.

Because Folklore is government-supported and Web-only, you can read the contents online. The articles are in English—otherwise I would not be much use to them, nor would the other board members from the USA, Ireland, India . . .

Here, for example, is “The Transmission of Knowledge among Estonian Witch Doctors,” by the editor, Mare Kõiva, the one who invited me.

It is not all about Estonia, however; I see articles from the other Baltic nations and from Finland, Russia, Ireland, and elsewhere. And you will find occasional articles on native Paganism, shamanism, etc.

My family has no Baltic corrections, although my oldest sister spent the last couple of years of her life in Kaunas, Lithuania, which is too long a story to tell here.

It would be great to go there sometime, pick a few mushrooms, and read or write in a room like this one.

Maybe I could drop in on the secret cyberforce. They probably have already read this post.

Our guys in Multicam are there too. You didn’t know? They probably never get to use the folklore reading room.

Great Review for Calico’s “Being Viking”

I was happy to see Being Vking: Heathenism in Contemporary America get a good review in Reading Religion, which is the American Academy of Religion’s online book-review site.

Michael Strmiska (currently teaching in Latvia) writes,

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

Being Viking

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Heathenism, to use Jefferson Calico’s preferred term for the modern Norse Pagan movement in America,  is a form of modern or contemporary Paganism that endeavors to create a workable contemporary version of pre-Christian Norse Paganism as was once practiced in Iceland, Scandinavia, and Germanic Europe. Being Viking is the product of many years of participant-observation fieldwork research that Calico has conducted among Heathens in the United States and informed by extensive reading in the literature of NRMs in general and Modern Norse Paganism in particular. He builds on the previous work of such scholars as Jeffrey Kaplan, Mattias Gardell, Jenny Blain, Jennifer Snook, and myself.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

The universalist conception holds that Modern Norse Paganism should be open and embracing to any person anywhere regardless of ethnic or racial background who feels a sincere spiritual interest in Norse Pagan gods and traditions. The folkish perspective holds that membership in the religion should be mainly—or even exclusively—limited to people of European or Germanic descent. Calico also provides valuable discussion of the problematic “metagenetics” theory propounded by Stephen McNallen, a pseudo-scientific attempt to ground Heathen spirituality—and folkish exclusiveness—in European genetics.

Calico juxtaposes the historical development of each topic while also providing colorful sketches of particular Heathens and their life-situations and religious practices. The author traces the lineages of different organizational structures that have undergirded the development of American Heathenism such as the Ring of Troth, more commonly and simply known as the Troth, and the Asatru Folk Alliance (AFA) pointing out their differing attitudes toward both religious practice and preferred practitioners, with the Troth being the more open and inclusive structure and the AFA the least, with a pronounced emphasis on ancestry and ethnicity that many observers have reckoned a thinly masked form of racism, or at the very least, very attractive to racists. Calico uses the metaphor of a river into which tributary streams feed and swirl as a means of explicating the different intellectual, cultural and social “streams” of influence that have fed into American Asatru, and this is an effective and intriguing manner of conceptualizing the internal diversity, dialogue, and conflict in the religion.

Read the whole thing.

Being Viking is part of Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies book series, of which I am the longest-surving editor, a tale of success, frustration, corporate marriage and corporate divorce, and who knows what will happen next?

New Collection on Western Esotericism, Downloadable

Quick, while it’s free, you can download New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem (he has published in The Pomegranate) and Julian Strube.

The blurb:

This volume offers new approaches to some of the biggest persistent challenges in the study of esotericism and beyond. Commonly understood as a particularly “Western” undertaking consisting of religious, philosophical, and ritual traditions that go back to Mediterranean antiquity, this book argues for a global approach that significantly expands the scope of esotericism and highlights its relevance for broader theoretical and methodological debates in the humanities and social sciences.

That final sentence could be applied to Pagan studies too, which has the potential to upset a lot of comfortable thought about “religion.” But we need to do more.

Lurching into a Virtual Annual Meeting of the AAR-SBL

Screenshot from the annual meeting scheduling app. At least it works better than some of the scheduling choices do!

If this were a normal year — and we know it’s not — I would be in Boston right now with 10,000 of my closest friends, attending the annual meeting of the American Acafemy of Religion and its smaller, parent organization, the Society of Biblical Literature.[1]The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools. A typical meeting involves hearing papers until your brain is full, meeting with publishers and editors, shouting into friends’ ears in noisy hotel bars, attending receptions (free food!), touring the host city, drinking,eating, buying too many books, and generally getting your intellectual batteries recharged.

This year we are all Zoomerati. I got off to a bad start this morning, having quickly walked and fed the dog, made coffee, built a fire in the woodstove to warm the kitchen and dining room for M. when she got up, and settled myself to “attend” the first session of the day, a workshop from the Ritual Studies group.

I had attended a similar workshop last year, which was limited in size by the nature of the workshop. This time, you were supposed to pre-register, and I thought that I had done so, but sometimes I am a little dyslexic about online forms and stuff. The time came, but the “Join” screen button did not.

It turned out to be full. Evidently I messed up when I thought that I had registered — or I had been too late.. Today the  session’s chat room was full of people asking “Do I have to register”” “Can I register?” “I paid for AAR — why can’t I register?” and so on.

Some might have been confused by the Virtual Annual Meeting FAQ page, which states,

Is there a way to make a reservation in advance to attend a session?
No need to do this—just join the session when it begins.

A normal annual meeting is five days. This virtual annual meeing goes from November 29 to December 10, but still manages to produce situations where I want to be in sessions that meet simulataneously.

Like Tuesday. Some scheduler put New Religious Movements (which was the first home of Pagan studies before we got our own unit), Indigenous Religious Traditions, and a  “exploratory session”: “Things That Go Bump in the Night”: Folklore, the Supernatural, and Vernacular Religion,” all at the same time! Ten days they have to work with, yet much of what I want to attend happens all at once.[2]I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.

“But they will be recorded, surely,” you say. Maybe Not that I can see from the info in my planning app! Crap crap crapola. (I would love to be wrong about that.) Do I just jump from virtual room to virtual room? Apparently so.

And there is no book show and no dinner in a nice restaurant on the publisher’s tab. No quick trip on the train up to Salem to buy witch kitsch. No window-shopping on Newbury Street. Just the same old house and the same old screen.[3]I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

But there is at least one book that I bought last year in San Diego that I have yet to read, so I will pretend it’s new.

Notes

Notes
1 The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools.
2 I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.
3 I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

How Makers and Creators Might Price Their Work

King of Cups Tarot Card

Aquarian Tarot, David Palladini, 1979.

When I graduated from college, I owned three Tarot decks: the Rider-Waite/Pamela Coleman Smith deck (of course), the Marseilles deck (for history), and David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot (well, it fit my personal aesthetic at the time).

This is fun, I thought, I should collect more Tarot decks.

And then the Tarot market exploded with publishers like Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, US Games, and a bunch of others coming out with Tarot or Tarot-inspired divination decks. I would have needed another bedroom — and a lot of money — to create the collection.

But it’s all good. In the last year I’ve contributed to crowd-funding for two: the American Renaissance deck, which is still in the works, and the Mushroom Tarot.

A Tarot cloth promoting the Mushroom Tarot.

One of the premiums from the Mushroom Tarot was a bandana — or Tarot cloth —  with the slogan, “In the Name of the Hyphae, the Spore, and the Holy Host.” That may go instead nto my mushrooom-hunting gear. Watch for it on the other blog next August.

So people are making their own decks, and that is wonderful, but how do you decide the production numbers and how to do you price them?

For that you should read “Show Me the Numbers: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing of a Tarot/Oracle Deck,” by Benebell Wen. There is a video and additional text, and I think this difficult topic needs text! It’s not the fun, creative part, but it is essential to think about. (And I guess you need merch like T-shirts and Tarot cloths too.)

Kind of related: Kristen Blizzard, a Colorado foraging-and-cooking blogger, and her husband recently finished a book, Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide.

They were working with a publisher — they weren’t book authors, yet.

Ultimately we decided to jump in blind and figure it out because… mushrooms! Writing a book was never something either of us longed to put on our resumes, yet in the long run I’m glad we did.

So there was research and cooking and writing and photography. You may have taken hundreds of photos for your blog, but food photography is a speciality — she has advice on that too. Pricing and press runs will be someone else’s decision though.

Aidan Wachter’s “Six Ways” Shakes Up Occult Publishing

Near Llewellyn Worldwide’s corporate HQ (Google Maps).

At an office park in Woodbury, Minnesota, some publishing employees must be feeling a certain degree of nervousness.

Today I heard a podcast host say what I have been thinking from when I bought the book last year: Aidan Wachter’s Six Ways: Approaches & Entries for Practical Magic has more content in 155 or so pages[1]And an index! than a shelf-full of Llewellyn books.

I fantasize that witches, magicians, and sorcerors of all sorts[2]That’s a metaphor from the printing trade, did you know? are sweeping their shelves of books with the familiar crescent Moon on the spine and tossing them into cartons to take to the nearest used bookstore to sell or to trade for store credit. Six Ways’ success threatens the old model of printing lots of occult  books in small press runs and waiting to see if any author is the next Scott Cunningham.

And now there is another one coming. Weaving Fate: Changing the Past & Telling True Lies. The ebook is available and the paperbook is on its way.[3]I am waiting for the “real” book, since I want to write in it and make it mine.

It is Chaos magic-plus-animism, as one interviewer said, and that combination appeals to a lot of readers.

Thanks to the Internet, Wachter is communicating from his rural compound outside Albuquerque with multiple podcast listeners, plus maintaining a Six Ways Facebook page and of course a website.

One fan has already assembled a Spotify playlist of all his different podcast appearances. Self-publishing and social media: When they work, they can work big. Disruptive, even.

UPATE: Aidan himself has an even longer list of podcast appearances.

Notes

Notes
1 And an index!
2 That’s a metaphor from the printing trade, did you know?
3 I am waiting for the “real” book, since I want to write in it and make it mine.

The Pizzica Video that Tore My Heart

Just as the reality of coronavirus lockdown descended (even on those of us who live in lightly populated areas), two differnt Facebook friends linked to this YouTube video, released on April 17th. The location is the Piazza Sant’Oronzo in the southern Italian city of Lecce, at the heel tip of the “boot.”

The dance is a traditional style called pizzica. I had learnt about it only recently, when I met an Italian scholar living in the US, Giovanna Parmigiani, who published an article in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies about how some residents of that region were, in a sense, re-paganzing the dance, but in their own unique way, reflective of their regional history and their understanding of tradition.

While the opportunity exits, you can download her article, “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism,” for free. Just visit the linked page and click “PDF.”[1]If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.

Based on conversations with Giovanna, reading her work, watching videos, I realized that the Lecce dancer’s performance turned the pizzica tradition on its head.

  1. Instead of being at a crowded festival, the dancer is alone.
  2. Instead of wearing white, she is wearing black.
  3. Instead of having live music, she dances to recorded music.
  4. Instead of being in a crowd, she is alone.
  5. She is alone.

The newspaper La Repubblica picked it up and placed the video on its own YouTube channel, commenting

A dancer dressed in black dances the pinch in the heart of Lecce. In Piazza Sant’Oronzo, on what is the symbol of the city: the coat of arms of the She-wolf, on which the woman moves almost as if she wanted to awaken everyone from slumber. The video that appeared on Facebook has become a sort of exorcism, in the days of quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The taranta of evils to be chased away at a mad pace is known, and this is the message launched by the dancer. Who, assures those who filmed it by turning off the social controversy that have not missed, lives 40 meters from the square, and then moved within the limits imposed by the [lockdown] decree [Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator].

I get the “exorcism” part, but watching this late at night sent me into a horrible dystopian place, a real tragic place, where the dancer and the few passers-by (and the cop at 2:39) were the last people in a deserted city, not exorcising but defying their inevitable deaths from . . . .whatever it was.

When I remember the spring of 2020, I will remember this video as much as I remember the equally deserted Main Street of my nearest little town.

For even though my daily life has “social distancing” built in and even though I do have easy contact with nonhuman nature, and thank the gods for that, I know that I am still connected to the collective unconscious and the world soul, not to mention the internet.

And so I have had some really chilling dystopian dreams, right down to masses of people committing suicide becasue there was nothing left to live for and no way to survive. That particular dream might partly have been launched by reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the week before at the urging of a friend.[2]His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you? Bad choice. But without the pandemic, I doubt it would have lodged itself in my psyche.

On a happier note, Giovanna is expanding her paper into a book, The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy, which will be published in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series one of these days. Dance on!

Notes

Notes
1 If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.
2 His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you?

Thelema, New York, and Esoteric Publishing: A Quick Review of “In the Center of the Fire”


James Wasserman, In the Center of the Fire: A Memoir of the Occult 1966–1989 (Lake Worth, Fla.: Ibis Press, 2012).

(In the cover photo, Wasserman is in back and his business and magickal partner Bill Breeze in the foreground.)

Before I found my first Wiccan coven, a friend connected me with (an) Abby of Thelema, a little group of 20-something magicians living in a run-down old house in a run-down neighborhood of Colorado Springs. Three or four other members lived elsewhere but came over for study and ritual. [1]They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and … Continue reading There was a certain amount of drug use and not always enough food, but someone was the “imperator.”

I learned some things there, but the combination of high-flown titles, material poverty, and self-delusion was pretty strange. The “abby” hit the rocks before long, and I moved on to a more compatible path.

But yes, Thelema. Here, pre-O.T.O., is our protagonist at (the old) Antioch College in Ohio: “This [academic] quarter was particularly laced with drugs, women, and spiritual seeking. School was simply off the radar.” The first quarter of the book, in fact, is a classic Seventies melange of road trips, dope, spiritual teachers, sexual relationships, and more road trips. (Wasserman and I could have passed on the street in Portland — or maybe in Taos.)

Finally Wasserman is in New York City, working at Weiser’s, a pre-eminent metaphysical store, and meeting other esotericists with whom he shares memorable experiences: “How many mornings we later spent on the pier on Hudson River across from my Greenwich Street loft, greeting the dawn with a hit of speed.” After a time, he shifts to the book-publishing side of the business, where he finds a home.

Aleister Crowley’s magickal heirs are deeply involved with texts — and some of the best tales of this memoir involve books, manuscripts, correspondence, and libraries, complete with international court battles over rights, burglaries of occult libraries, leadership struggles within the O.T.O., and Wasserman’s own adventures in magickal pubishing and with heroin. Some times I wonder if you can have Thelemic magic without heroin; Crowley himself certainly could not.

Wasserman’s recounting of his highs and lows through the Seventies and Eighties are brutally honest. A lot of what he tried, e.g. open marriage and the heavy drinking, simple did not work. They usually do not work long-term. Maybe what carried him through so many destructive periods was the magick — and yet, I have seen others on the same path sink to the depths and never rise. He sank, but he rose. In the Center of the Fire is an honest book, and it stands in contrast to many occult memoirs I have read where I felt the author was hiding all the unpleasant stuff and making his or her life look like a sequence of triumphs.

It should interest anyone interested in the late-20th century history of the O.T.O. (including how more of a place was made for women than Crowley had anticipated) in the American esoteric publishing and bookselling scene, and in the bohemian life in New York in the late Seventies and Eighties. You could put in the same shelf as Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan or even with Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (Smith makes a brief appearance in Wasserman’s book.)

Maybe witches, magicians, and esotericists of the future will look at 1980s New York the way that would-be Hemingways and Fitzgeralds regard the Paris of the “Lost Generation.”.

Notes

Notes
1 They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on.