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Unfortunate Mystics

Scribe re-lettering a Torah scroll to keep it kosher. (Tom Kilpatrick)

Scribe re-lettering a Torah scroll to keep it kosher. (Tom Kilpatrick)


9:30-11:00 am  saturday, october 8

Myra Mossman: Sacred Scribes, Profane Publishers, Unfortunate Mystics ♣  Karen Wahl: Printing Developments in Malleus Malificarum “The Witches’ Hammer” ♣  Grendl Löfkvist: The Devil is in the Details: Conjuring the Spirit of the Book (The Challenges involved in printing a 21st Century Grimoire)

This panel featured three presentations that connect the gritty practicalities of the printer’s craft with the mystical effects and outcomes that printed books can enable or engender. 

Myra Mossman is a Kabbalistic tarot reader (among her many other interests and accomplishments), who first explained a bit about the importance of Kabbalistic imagery and texts to mystics’ tools of the trade, such as tarot cards, and the relationship between written language (the Hebrew alphabet), mystical imagery (the Tree of Life glyphs), and the production of tarot cards. She then provided a number of examples of printing errors, particularly in the transliteration or interpretation of Hebrew letters and astrological symbols, which, completely changes or damages the usefulness of the card, tarot booklet and sacred texts to contemporary mystics.


Copies of 1519, 1614, and 1620 printings of Malleus Maleficarum from the George Washington University Law School Library’s collection. (Karen Wahl)

Karen Wahl, of the Jacob Burns Law Library at George Washington University, talked about her research on the Malleus Malificarum (The Witches’ Hammer) a text published numerous times in the 16th and 17th centuries, which both aided and fueled the fervor for witch hunts that ranged across Europe in the period.  Although the volume began as a treatise on the motives for witch hunts, it gradually grew into a sort of manual for witch hunters that cataloged witch attributes and listed increasingly gruesome methods for “interrogating” suspected witches.  The book’s publication history records a shift from the almost exclusively ecclesiastical to thesecular nature of proceedings, and traces wider changes in printing in Europe, such as the shift from blackletter to Roman types in the 16th century.  Wahl concluded with her questions for further research, such as the probable audience and use of the volumes, and their totemic or talismanic value.

Grimoire Azoëtia, Sethos edition, Xoanon Publishing, Inkworks Press, 2002. (Grendl Löfkvist)

Grimoire Azoëtia by Andrew Chumbley, Sethos edition, Xoanon Publishing, Inkworks Press, 2002. (Grendl Löfkvist)

Grendl Löfkvist detailed the interactions between the practical printer and the publishing branch of a witchcraft order known as the Cultus Sabbati. She touched on several publications, but looked most closely at the publication of a Grimoire, a manual of practical instruction in magic. Ordinary choices and problem solving between printer, binder, and client or publisher take on utterly extraordinary aspect when various choices are seen to be part of a mystical, unseen influence. It was the publisher’s conviction that their books are intrinsically, literally magical objects, and will in various concrete ways resist manifestation. Grendl detailed a number of instances where various techniques and materials were tried and failed, and where unexplained difficulties cropped up, giving increased credence to these claims. Ultimately, however, the Grimoire was produced successfully, and lavishly, and presented unusual opportunities for cooperation between the printer, binder, and client.


  1. At my presentation, Sacred Scribes, Profane Publishers, Unfortunate Mystics, the question was asked, “When did the astrological symbol for Pluto first appear on the Tarot cards?” I want to expand upon my answer. Since my focus is more anthropological and biblical, it was necessary to do further research. Pluto was first recognized as a planet in 1930 and demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006. In 1933, the American occultist, Paul Foster Case, wrote about the corresponding astrological attributions to the Tarot’s Higher Arcana or the suit of Trump. He associated the outer planets, including Pluto, to the Judgment card. The symbol for Pluto first appeared in the original paintings for the Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck. He associated it with the card, the Sun. The artist, Lady Freda Harris, exhibited the paintings in 1941, at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. The Ordo Templi Orientis did not reproduce the deck until 1969. It is important to note, Kabbalah and the Tarot are old, yet living traditions. They absorb new findings and important events to offer relevant interpretations and understanding.

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