In my life, an adoration of a book extends to every detail. The spirit of a book — as well as the genius loci of its author and publisher — is constituted in every facet of a design. This seems particularly the case with old occult books. Combine these dual fascinations and it is no surprise that I have an adoration for the embossed, debossed, stamped, and emblematic covers of old occult books.
With this in mind, take a look at this sigilesque emblem for the Occult Publishing Co. of Boston. The company imported and distributed Theosophical books around the New England area at the tail end of the 19th century. By way dispersion, they eventually made their way around the country. Unfortunately, not much can be found on this turn of the century purveyor of occult literature. The publishing itself was done by George Redway of London. The publisher was located on York Street at Covent Garden. This publishing provenance lends an international quality to the book, and allows one to assume that it made rounds throughout European occult circles.
The emblem depicts an image of ouroboros in which the meeting of the serpent’s head and tail is marked with a swastika. Inside, letters which abbreviate the company are overlapped into an emblem that serves as a kind of literary sigil. The detail is incredible — notice the scales of the serpent’s skin, and the horizontal lines marking the “P.”
As for curiosity regarding the title — The image comes from Harvard University’s Digital Collections and it is taken from the cover of an 1886 Franz Hartmann book entitled, Magic, White and Black, or, The Science of Finite and Infinite Life – Containing Practical Hints for Students in Occultism. The 228-paged book is a fairly well-known work on occult theory and practice.
The author, Dr. Franz Hartmann (1838-1912) was a German doctor and acquaintance of Madame Blavatsky. Hartmann served as chairman of the Board of Control for the Theosophical Society Adyar, and Magic, White and Black is dedicated to Blavatsky. Hartmann referred to her as a “genius.” Hartmann is also responsible for helping to popularize Theosophy and yoga in Germany.
Scholar Karl Baier considers Hartmann to be one of the most impactful and important theosophical minds of the era. In 1896, Hartmann founded a branch of the Theosophical Society in Germany. Theodor Reuss notes that Hartmann, along with German mystic Carl Kellner founded the order which would go on to become the Ordo Templi Orientis. For more, see Karl Baier’s Yoga within Viennese Occultism: Carl Kellner and Co (2018).
Other works in Hartmann’s catalog include a German translation of the Bhagavad Gita, a work on astrological geomancy, and what is perhaps his best-known work entitled Occult Science in Medicine
As far as the emblemata and embossments of occult books go, there is no shortage. Detailed works of art unto themselves, these emblems adorn books of every kind from the era. Keep your eyes open for more histories told through cover work…
Baier, Karl. (2018). Yoga within Viennese Occultism: Carl Kellner and Co. In Karl Baier, Philipp André Maas, Karin Preisendanz. Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Vienna University Press. pp. 395-396.
Hartmann, Franz 1838-1912 author. Magic, white and black, or, The science of finite and infinite life containing practical hints for students in occultism. London :: George Redway, 1886. Via Harvard Digital Collections. https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog/99003956901020394