by Jesse Bransford
This 11.75 x 9.75 inches (30cm x 25cm) big black clothbound hardback monograph, is released by the legendary pioneers of talismanic publishing, Fulgur Press, a name that should be very familiar to all connoisseurs of premium esoteric material. If you don’t know them, I urge you to check out their content, as they are one of the leading occult book publishers in the modern market. I mean, in a way, they (re)invented it!
All this preamble is just to note that the physical tactile quality of this particular book is of the highest standard, and almost in and of itself makes investing in a purchase of such a book worth it as a work of art all on its own.
After a dedication and quote by Walter Benjamin, the book opens with A Statement from the Artist. This is a brief 4 pages of text, presented in both English as well as Icelandic. After this we get stanza 144 from Hávamál, followed by an 8 page long essay by Robert j. Wallis titled ‘I Know Those Spells’: Staves for the Sayings of the High One. This too is given to us in the dual languages of English and Icelandic, and includes an always welcome Bibliography. This constitutes the majority of the text in the book, but apart from the short description of the specific staves shown, there is the occasional other Hávamál stanza to break things up.
The rest of the book is also broken up into four separate sections: Sayings of the High One, Moon Rituals, Small Staves and Elements. In order, these sections includes 18, 9, 8 and 4 staves each, which is a grand a total of 39 staves.
After a lot of deliberation, I’ve decided not to comment much on the above mentioned texts, and instead I’ll focus mainly on the art. This is because the art really the most important part of this release, and I believe it’s intended to predominantly be an art book, nothing more. Historical accuracy and authenticity is out the window, however, armed with an artistic license, this is the artist’s prerogative.
What, No Nábrók in This Galdrastafbók?!
I do have some criticism, but these are minors gripes, but let’s just get those out of the way first, before we continue to the best features, shall we? Ok, here we go.
It does come across a bit shallow, falling into the usual traps of romanticizing the Icelandic grimoire magic, and ignoring its relationships, connections and inheritances with and from the medieval mainland European grimoire tradition. It falls for the illusionary spell of the Icelandic magic tradition being much more exotic than it actually is (or was?). While there’s little doubt that Icelandic grimoires have their own unique flavour and it of course most certainly has some extremely quirky characteristics that definitely makes it have its own twist. Yet the pagan heritage is not as prevalent as people these days tend to think.
Not sure why this fantasy has become the narrative that people chose to cling on to… but it might have something to do with a deep rooted fear of the so called “Christian influence”. It’s time to get real people. You can’t escape Christianity here. You may try and recast the past all you want, but the fact is that this kind of magic has much, much more in common with esoteric Abrahamic based practices, than with heathenry. You just have to come to terms with this. There, I said it.
Furthermore, the artist has chosen to use some runes from the Elder Futhark, which could once again be chalked down to the aforementioned “artistic license”, but I feel I need to point out that it would be more culturally appropriate to either use the Icelandic runes, or better yet, the Younger Futhark. Although, it could be argued that runes shouldn’t really be used much, if at all, in Icelandic stave magic. Controversial, I know, right?
For a good book about the Elder, Younger and Icelandic Futhark, I warmly recommend RUNES: THE ICELANDIC BOOK OF FUÞARK.
Also, if you want a taste of authentic Icelandic magic, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Like the book Icelandic Magic which I’ve already reviewed here.
The Stuff That Dream Staves are Made of
Where this art book shines is not in the historical accuracy, but in the reimagining and artistically reinterpreting galdrastafir. In fact, it really makes no claims of being anything other than this; artwork.
Perhaps the most interesting feature, which makes these staves truly stand out, is the use of color. I might even go as far as to say that it’s the overall best feature of this artwork. Not that color in and of itself is remarkable, however, in the context of staves, even sigils to some extent, it’s rare to see such bold use of color. It’s really refreshing, and in my opinion elevates the experience and moves the tradition forward. And isn’t that what it’s all about? For me at least, this is the whole point, especially when it comes to actual praxis. I will go on and on about misinterpretation and misrepresentation about what is authentic or not, in terms of the real heritage and history, yet i firmly believe that it’s out job to update everything that has to do with occultism and magic(k). And this is where this shines. And shine it does, like bright stars in the northern night sky, with a hint of northern-lights blended with paintings of Hilma af Klint.
Stave In / Stave Out
In as sense it would make much more sense if this was released as a set of cards, even if the dimensions of the original artwork isn’t all exactly the same. I still think it would be possible to edit this down to a nice deck of course. Perhaps for a future re-release? In any case, it would amazing to use it not only for spellwork, but as a super-weird oracle deck! However, as it stands, this big coffee table book does the job wonderfully, and the presentation of these original staves as art is as good as it gets in this format. I have no complains when it comes to this.
Are you looking for inspiration, either for your own occult art, or for making your own staves or even sigils? Then I think you’ll find all that and more in these pages. I certainly found treasures here.
At the time of writing it’s on sale, which makes this book a total bargain! Oh, and once this goes out of print, the secondhand prices will skyrocket.
This review was sponsored by Varda.