Emblems and Embossments Pt I • The Occult Publishing Co.

Curio

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.

Occult Publishing Co. Emblem

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

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…



Bibliography:


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

Was Crowley’s Proclaimed Son a Zinester? Liber lucis

Curio

An eccentric bit of occult history that will resonate with zinesters. What you see above is cover art for Liber lucis no. 3, Eald Cynren ( which I believe translates to Old Kin from Anglo-Saxon). Described as “A new exposition of the Law of Thelema,” this fanzine-esque series was created around 1972-1974 by Andrew Standish.

Seven volumes of Liber lucis exist, of which there are eight editions (7A & 7B). According to Standish, the series was, “Prepared according to the instructions of Master Therion 666, and by his son here proclaimed Master Amado 777.” To compliment this fascinating history, the pamphlet is also adorned with striking cover art.

Harvard University Digital Collections maintains all eight Liber Lucis editions, including Eald Cynren. The contents are not currently digitized, but the covers are available for viewing and can be see throughout this page.

Liber lucis no. 1

According to Weiser Antiquarian, “Amado [Andrew Standish, 1930-2010], claimed to have been the illegitimate son of Aleister Crowley, and to have received occult training from the Beast, although these claims are universally dismissed by Crowley scholars. Regardless of the veracity of his claims he was an interesting character and committed occultist.” 

Liber lucis no. 2

In a critical review of Standish’s book The Secrets of Aleister Crowley, occult scholar and historian Gerald Suster writes:

“Amado claims in his book that Aleister taught him between the ages of 7 and 14: i.e.1937–1944. If so, why isn’t there a single mention of this vital matter in Crowley’s Diaries? There he [Crowley] records matters as trivial as the breaking of a tooth or the quality of his dinner: but he does not see fit to record meetings with an initiation of a son destined to be his successor.” According to Weiser Antiquarian, the “veracity” of Standish’s claims has been challenged “universally” within the realm of Crowley scholarship.

Liber lucis no. 3

Besides his questionable genealogical claims to the Crowley bloodline, Standish is probably best known for Liber Lucis. Weiser also notes that Liber Lucis contains fanzine production values characteristic of the 1970s.

Weiser tells us that the publication’s eclectic esoteric offerings include “…various magical instructions and rituals, including pieces on sex magick, rune casting, personal rituals, séances, astral projection, etc. etc. Much amusing editorial content and several letters by Crowley (probably extracted from “Magick Without Tears).”

The rare book website viaLibri similarly notes that, “The Liber Lucis is a very 1970s production, including pieces on “The Amethystine Cycle of Exercises” (yoga), astral projection, “sex magick”, and rune casting.”

Liber lucis no. 4

The cover art for Liber lucis is markedly serpentine. Thelemic iconography can also be spotted.

Liber lucis no. 5
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Liber lucis no. 6
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Liber lucis no. 7A
Liber lucis no. 7B

Liber Lucis is not the only pamphlet published by Standish. He also created a work entitled Hweol—A Divinitory Guide to the Life of Positive Occultism. Harvard Digital Collections maintains a copy of this work as well. The date is unlisted, but it is likely published c.a. 1975. Hweol, which means Wheel in Old English, appears to be a similar publication in both size and content. Hweol‘s cover depicts three solemn monks clutching candles as they stand on a firmament containing the edition’s title.

Hweol—A Divinitory Guide to the Life of Positive Occultism

Another pamphlet in the Standish collection is entitled The Magus, though little is described in regards to material records, dates, or contents. A work entitled Liber Alba can also be seen floating around the web.

The Magus

It appears that the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic maintains a collection of Liber lucis editions which include Hweol and The Magus. A link to the museum’s catalog entry can be found below. Other issues owned by the museum and unlisted by Harvard include Rad Tungol and hydels caeg- a key to the rituals of tid-boc.

Suster’s review (link below) seems to contain most of the sparse information found on the web regarding Standish. Suster had the opportunity to meet Standish/Amado himself in the mid-Seventies. Dissapointingly, Suster describes Liber Lucis as “…monumentallly boring.”

Suster’s own takes, which are likely fueled by his skepticism and personal impressions of Standish, do not diminish the value of the incredible Liber lucis cover artworks. These covers are unique pieces of occult iconography unto themselves – anything but “monumentally boring.”



Credits:

Images via Harvard University Library’s Harvard Digital Collections. Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection. From Widener Library offsite storage. Used according to educational and artistic fair use criteria.

Resources:

Harvard Search:
https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search_field=all_fields&q=aleister+crowleyl_fields&q=aleister+crowley

AbeBooks Liber Alba:
https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/AMADO-CROWLEY:-ANDREW-STANDISH-MASTER-AMADO-777-ALEISTER-CROWLEY:-RELATED-WORKS-?cm_sp=brcr--bdp--author

Archive.org Wayback image of Gerald Suster’s review:
https://web.archive.org/web/20081019055419/http://www.montaukproject.com/_disc1/000021d3.htm

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic catalog:
https://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/library/5634-liber-lucis/

ViaLibri:
https://www.vialibri.net/years/books/10307373/1972-crowley-aleister-crowley-amado-liber-lucis

Weiser Antiquarian:
https://www.weiserantiquarian.com/pages/books/60002/master-amado-777-aleister-crowley-related-works-amado-crowley-andrew-standish/liber-lucis-a-new-exposition-of-the-law-of-thelema-prepared-according-to-the-instructions-of-master?soldItem=true