Here are a few recent additions to my library that I thought you might like to check out…
The first is Momento Mori by Paul Koudounaris. This book gathers together some breathtaking photographs by the author that focus on the ritual uses of dead humans by the living. The collection spans images of skeletons dressed in gem encrusted raiment in Germany, the charnel houses of Europe (notably the astonishing Sedlec Ossurary in the Czech Republic where human remains are used to construct baroque ceiling ornaments and skulls cover every wall), and many more locations. The household skull spirits of Bolivia are photographed, as are the gilded corpses of long dead Buddhist monks, and the tragic monuments to those people murdered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. This amazing collection of images is introduced by an erudite essay which explores how the material remains of our ancestors have, by and large, become excluded from the day-to-day experience of many (post) Protestant cultures; contrasting this attitude with current global and historical contexts which show that this is an unusual disconnection. This isn’t a morbid or gruesome book, rather one that explores with text and astonishing images, how we make sense of death and maintain our relationships with those who have gone before us.
The next two volumes take as their subject drugs. The first, Mystic Chemist by Dieter Hagenbach and Lucius Werthmüller (with forward by Stanislav Grof), is a biography of Albert Hofmann. This is a detailed account, with numerous illustrations, of the life of Hofmann himself and his problem/wonder child LSD. There are some great tales here and Hofmann comes across as a thoughtful, kindly and dedicated person. Also included is some broader cultural analysis of the influence of LSD on art, science and other fields.
Continuing the etheogenic part of this trip, the third journal this year from Psychedelic Press is out now, maintaining the very high standard of writing that I’ve seen in the previous editions. Material from personal, legal, ethnographic, scientific and other perspectives make these volumes a real delight to read. There’s some ground breaking research being reported in these collections too, so if you want to get hip to what the psychedelic intelligentsia are up to these days I recommend a subscription. For example, in Volume II from this year historian of the counter culture, Andy Roberts, did a great job of refuting the oft repeated story (which actually appears in Mystic Chemist) that Francis Crick got his insight into the configuration of the DNA molecule while high on acid.
Another slice of counter-cultural goodness is available in the form of The Trials of Arthur by C.J.Stone. In this book, which has elements of gonzo journalism, we follow the story of one King Arthur. Not the first incarnation of that Once and Future King but his modern iteration as an ex-squaddie biker/druid activist costumed hero, who waged a dogged battle against The Man to allow unrestricted access to Stonehenge, and was an important part of the Thatcher years road protest movement.
This is a deeply magical books where the symbolic identity of King Arthur, though a series of synchronous events and high strangeness, becomes linked to a chap called John Timothy Rothwell (born 5 April 1954). As the revelation of this identity unfolds our modern Arthur gathers his knights around him and sets of on various quests. The question of the ‘truth’ about Rothwell’s identification as King Arthur (as either a reincarnation of the ancient King or classic British eccentric, or both) is explored. The notion that there may be many ways to read this phenomena (as C.J.Stone and I suspect Arthur himself would admit) is maintained, while clearly showing both the symbolic power of that royal archetype, and the bravery of this individual (Arthur refused to wear prison issue clothes while on remand and was put naked into solitary confinement for quite some time). This is an important slice of counter-cultural history and describes how an inspired and magical approach to protest can affect real social change. People engaged with the Realpolitik of opposition and cultural transformation, who are inspired by occulture, should read this book. This volume elegantly describes how magic can practically bring about real changes in the world.