Fiction and Literature

Occult fiction, poetry, and literary criticism.

Review: The Oestara Anthology of Pagan Poetry, edited by Cynthia Joyce Clay, et al.

By Psyche | June 12, 2006 | Leave a comment

The Oestara Anthology of Pagan Poetry, edited by Cynthia Joyce Clay, Delight Clay and Raymond T. Anderson
Oestara Publishing LLC, 127 pp. (incl. index)

According to their website, Oestara Publishing is a co-operative publishing group made up of Pagans who read, edit, and work with one another’s writing to produce Pagan books, from poetry to fiction.

A Pagan poetry contest was held, consisting of two categories, free verse and traditional form verse. Each category had cash prizes for the top three winners, though I could not find the exact dates it ran, the results were published in 2005 in this little book, The Oestara Anthology of Poetry. Other contestants, who did not win the prize money, but whose poetry was felt to be of sufficient quality, also had their work included in this anthology, winning, in effect, a chance to be published.

The introduction details each of the traditional forms used, explains the judges’ weighting system, and establishes who each of the three judges were, Cynthia Joyce Clay, Delight Clay, and Raymond T. Anderson, who also served as the anthology’s editors.

The winners of each category are given in sequence with judges’ commentary directly following each finalist’s winning entry, though the formatting of their observations could have used some adjusting.

I found with no separation between poem and judges’ remarks it broke the flow and did not allow for sufficient time to settle the reader’s own impressions, to really feel each poems worth. As a result, each of the winning poems were immediately coloured by three opinions before one’s own could be formed. I would have preferred to see the poems stand on their own merit, with judges’ commentary being an added bonus tucked away in an appendix, where a deeper look at their judging process could have been more fully formed. As it stands, it seems jagged and jarring.

Following the two sections for winners, several other contestants’ poems are showcased, with numerous poems by the same author, and lone poems, flowing into one another, arranged alphabetically by author’s surname, and also broken into two sections, Free Verse and Traditional Poetic Forms. Several of these are also quite good, and others are imperfect, but beautiful in their vibrant imagery and earnestness.

There are some truly beautiful poems here, Last Ferry, by Cis Staubach, and Banishing, by Julia Swiggum particularly, from the winning contestants.

There are others that were equally beautiful from other entrants, such as Bog Oak, by Stephen Mead, and Recognizing Kali in a Young Girl, by Adam Byrn Tritt, both found in Free Verse, which are two of my favourites.

The poems all follow Pagan themes, some invocations and charges (Charge of the God, by Julia Swiggum, who placed third in the Free Verse category, is a beautiful example of this), others on different festivals, with Samhain being a particular favourite, it seems. Others are more thoughtful, such as The Trouble with God, by Robin Renee, the last lines which run: Krishna, was it really you who said / that each man must do his duty, thus the warrior / must make war? / What did you mean by that? / And isn’t it time you found the warrior / a better job?

Afterwards, two of the judges give examples of their poems, and then each of the three follow up with brief essays of advice, further evaluations and detail their thoughts on Pagan poetry and poetry in general.

The technical aspects of the book are lacking, with inconsistent formatting, odd breaks and errors with punctuation floating throughout the text, but that aside, this is a neat little anthology, and I hope to see more on this theme.

First published on Suite101.com on 12 June 2006. (Unfortunately.)


Review: Join My Cult!, by James Curcio (2)

By Chris Arkenberg | May 15, 2005 | Leave a comment

Join My Cult!, by James Curcio
New Falcon Publications, 1561841730, 256 pp., 2004

When confronted with disorder the brain will attempt to overlay some form or pattern to make sense of the chaos. The meticulous geometries often accompanying psychedelic hallucination are one example of this phenomena. The brain, it seems, is an organizing device that recoils at disorder and attempts to subdue it with it’s own imposed sensibilities. Such is the experience of reading James Curcio’s mindwarping novel, Join My Cult!

Alexi and Ken are two teenagers in suburbia trying to cut through all the normalcy and order of their lives by investigating the arcane and occult. Their deepening investigations into the nature of reality and the hive mind begins to reveal the seeming existence of an enigmatic cult: The Mother Hive Brain Syndicate. Johny, another teen trying to sort his way through a world increasingly inconsistent with what he’s been raised to believe, also discovers the fiendish machinations of MHBS. Meanwhile, Agent 139 and Jesus (and later, Agent 506) are clearly agents of MHBS hell-bent on completely eradicating the status quo consensual reality through an increasingly severe rash of pranks and thoughtcrimes, culminating in the destruction of a Lenny’s diner. Behind them all looms the mysterious mystic Aleonus de Gabrael – sort of a younger, more vital Alan Moore, or a more overtly revolutionary Aleister Crowley – guiding and educating the whole lot, possibly as the head of MHBS and it’s affiliates.

What are the aims of this counter cultural eso-terror organization? Cuciro never makes it quite clear and it’s uncertain whether or not they even exist, but that’s all part of the game. The narrative is fractured and hallucinogenic, veering from coherent tales of Alexi and Ken’s experiences guiding their group into uncharted waters, then diving into unhinged dreams, alien/entity encounters, psychedelic journeys, schizophrenic agitprop confrontations by Jesus and Agent 139, and then swinging back into deeply revealing and compelling thoughts on magick and reality. Indeed, the most astounding current within Curcio’s work is the depth and practicality of his understanding of those technologies commonly referred to as The Occult. Within the more sober dialogues Curcio presents an ontology that reaches into the soul and reveals to the reader the error of history and the path to its redemption. These insights are the unshakable foundation of a house that’s quickly falling into the ground.

The work above all is Abyssal. It’s fractured like the mirror of Self that recurs throughout the novel, plunging into the depths of madness. The sober voice of Aleonis is the only light through the dark night, impelling us to break the mirror but also telling us how to put it back together again. Solve et coagula. The characters are at once illusory and amorphous, difficult to pin down and understand, then suddenly and surprisingly rich with inner turmoil and suffering, deeply human and alive against the howling wind. Amidst the chaos, the heartfelt moments of confession and intimacy anchor the characters and remind us that they’re human too, in spite of the extremity of their divorce from the consensus. And it’s this intimacy, this thirst for community and a sense of one’s tribe, that Curcio is begging us to acknowledge within ourselves and to make manifest in an increasingly lonely and fragmented world.

At times the story hints at science fiction or some alien technology wielded with possibly sinister motives by the Mother Hive Brain. As all visions do, the narrative continuously fades from dreamscape to hallucination to schizophrenia, so any real attempt to follow some of these literary devices ultimately fails. In other words, don’t expect Join My Cult! to answer as many questions as it raises. Seemingly important elements of the story that are introduced early on are completely abandoned in the later half. Diverse characters begin to overlap and appear to be the same, possibly all of them only a single being reflected through multiple selves. Maybe it all happened, or maybe it was all a hallucination of Alexi’s. Like Wilson & Shea’s epic Illuminatus! (to which Curcio’s work has already been compared by Peter Carroll) the journey is more important than the destination.

Join My Cult! will surely baffle many readers and annoy others, but it should nevertheless be standard reading for anyone questioning the world they’ve been told is real when their experiences plainly contradict it. Consume it like a drug or a hypersigil. Just take it in, don’t get too caught up in finding patterns, and let it seep into your blood and work it’s magick. Join the cult, but know that, as Gabrael says, “the real order that doles out initiation, that creates the kind of synchronicities that brought you here and will carry you on to the next step of your mission, is the Universe itself.”


Review: Join My Cult!, by James Curcio

By Psyche | January 21, 2005 | Leave a comment

Join My Cult!, by James Curcio
New Falcon, 1561841730, 284 pp., 2004

I’m on the subway, there’s a guy across from me reading Illuminatus!, a girl standing by the door is reading Carlos Castenada and I’m sitting there with a glowing green copy of Join My Cult! and reading bits of it to my husband on the ride to work and my mind is humming with synchronicity and the effort required to attempt to make sense of all this to my dear boy, sitting patiently, eyebrows raised incredulously. Even as I’m reading it, I can tell, this is a book to be read at least twice.

The novel opens with the introduction of Gabrael, one of the most realistic portrayals of an illuminated adept or ‘Invisible Master’ that I’ve read in a while. Shortly after we are introduced to the hero, Alexi, constantly tossing flashes of insight over his shoulder, and his best mate Ken. There is large cast of other characters, most of which seem to be direct reflections of Alexi and Ken in various shades, deliberately giving it a sort of kaleidoscope effect.

Any attempt to summarize the plot would be futile: there isn’t one. At least not in the traditional sense. There are bits of story, and each scene is layered with characters and images with often profound occult significance, and it moves from one to another with no obvious thread to tie them together.

Densely packed with occult, philosophic and paranoid conspiratorial references this is not a book to be rushed through. It barely makes sense as it is. It’s a kind of Cosmic Banditos meets The Illuminatus! Trilogy meets disillusioned teen angst lit, and none of these.

Join My Cult! is a clever, insightful and daring adventure into the surreal depths of the subconscious mind, and, if you’ll forgive the pun, it has all the makings of a cult classic.


Review: Harm None, by M. R. Sellars

By Taylor Ellwood | November 10, 2004 | Leave a comment

Harm None: A Rowan Gant Investigation, by M. R. Sellars
Willow Tree Press, 0967822106, 368 pp.

Harm None is a pagan detective fiction book, with a refreshing twist. The pagan isn’t the detective. He’s a consultant for the police. Not only does is he consulted on the images, but he becomes a spiritual medium that can give the police clues to the murders.

What I find most refreshing about this book is that the author notifies readers at the very beginning that there are intentional grammatical errors, purposely included, because as the author notes, no one he knows (or I know) speaks perfect grammatical English. By no means however should the reader of this review think that the author has made tons of grammatical errors. While I think some of the grammatical errors could be cut down on, I do also think that they do make the speech of the character more believable.

The plot for this book is excellent. The dealings with the police seem to be accurate and at the same time the character of the story is not some omnipotent magi. Rather while the main character is a practitioner of magic, he is nonetheless who acknowledges the need to learn and hone skills as well as how terrifying it can be to have an ability and not necessarily have full control of it. The supporting characters for the story are believable, from the skeptical police friend to the villain. Some of the ethical ramifications of magical acts are also explored.

This is a book that is written from the perspective of a Wiccan practitioner of magic, so some fields or practices of magic are not included or represented. It would be interesting to see how the main character would interact with a chaos magician. Overall though the book is an excellent read, which will keep you up into the early hours of the morning, turning pages and waiting to see what next happens to Rowan Grant.


Review: Nature’s God, by Robert Anton Wilson

By Psyche | October 15, 2004 | Leave a comment

Nature’s God: The History of the Early Illuminati (The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Volume III), by Robert Anton Wilson
New Falcon Publications, 1561841641, 225 pp., 1991, 2004

In Nature’s God, the third book of Wilson’s Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, it is 1776, and our dear Sigismundo Celine has done a runner and made for America. Here he meets up with Seamus Muadhen, now James Moon, who also left the old world after not killing his sworn enemy. They chat, briefly but insightfully, over alcohol before parting ways, Sigismundo further drowning himself: ‘Those of happy histories can ask what lies behind the surface of things. Those of us who know what lies behind the surface always choose to enjoy every illusion as long as possible. The color of a perfect English rose in my brain, not in the flower, but I would prefer to enjoy the color than to think dull thoughts like that. Leave philosophy to the innocent. We veterans of infernos and abysses prefer the roses, the sunsets, and the beautiful meaningless music’. Shortly after, James joins revolutionary army of George Washington and Lafayette.

After leaving a few false leads in his wake, Sigismundo flees to the wilderness where he build himself a cabin, and sit in meditation ‘seeking the solitude to make his mind an empty mirror at the age of twenty-six. That was the result of being involved with conspirators and magicians since he was fourteen’. However he is occasionally interrupted by the adorably named Miskasquamish of the Maheema, a shaman of a fictional Native North American tribe.

Meanwhile, back in England, Maria is initiated into a surviving witch cult in England and begins spreading feminist propaganda under a false name, while her husband advances in Freemasonry and turns to the drink and boys.

This is an immensely quotable book, perhaps even more so than the previous volumes, despite its smaller size. don’t think this will be the last book in the chronicles, it seems decidedly unfinished, with the possibility of a fourth in the future.

Wilson has packed a lot of excellent material into this work – where else are you going to read an in depth piece on God’s Willy? Highly recommended in addition to the previous two.


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