One of our ongoing concerns here at Fine Books is the intersection of
books and art. We recently began an occasional series on this blog profiling small, independent publishers who produce exquisite editions of their books. (The first entry in our series was Scarlet Imprint).
Today, we feature Three Hands Press, a fine publisher of occult books which began life in 2003 as a side venture of Xoanon Publishing. The house quickly built a strong reputation of producing beautiful books with many of their limited editions selling out before their publication.
I recently interviewed one of the press’s founders, Daniel Schulke, over e-mail:NP: What was the genesis of Three Hands Press? What’s the significance of its name?
DS: Three Hands Press was initially conceived as a side project of Xoanon Publishing, the official publisher of the witchcraft order Cultus Sabbati. These books are very arcane in content, and assume the format of grimoires
or manuals of magic. In 2000, Andrew Chumbley, the order’s Magister, re-oriented Xoanon as a publishing entity strictly run by our initiates, with nearly all phases of production and dissemination controlled by our own people. This allowed for a greater ability for manifestation of our vision: shortly thereafter Xoanon was incorporated as a Limited Company with Chumbley as Director and myself as Secretary. In 2003 he and I began to discuss the necessity of proper stewardship of our initiates’ writings which fell outside the purview of Xoanon - mainly magical essays which had appeared in occult journals, and also academic work. Andrew also wanted to have a means of publishing his PhD thesis on ancient ritual dream incubation outside of a strictly academic context, as it treats many concerns of interest to magical practitioners today.
During this temporal phase where these discussions were taking place, one of our initiates experienced a vision of an Angelic being whose form was comprised of three outstretched hands. Similar emblems appeared during this period. Given the context of the vision, it was clear that this was the presiding spirit of the nascent endeavour, and thus the name and stylized image was adopted. As to its meaning, there are many levels of interpretation. One might consider the emblem as indicative of a trinity of power which animates our work: the Hand of the Author, the Hand of the Publisher, and the ‘Hand’ of the book’s genius or governing spirit. This evokes the Magical Triangle of Evocation -- the minimum configuration of points necessary to enclose space and hallow ground. In a more cryptic and gnostic vein, it also evokes the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there
am I in the midst of them.” Others have interpreted the Three Hands as the Trident of the Arte Magical, being the Left-Hand, or sinistral path; the Right-Hand or dextral path; and the ‘Hand of Mediation’ which governs the Crooked or Middle Path between them.NP: What is the publishing vision of the house?
DS: We have broadened the vision since the initial conception of Three Hands Press, and have a community of diverse authors extending far beyond Xoanon. Our vision as a publisher is to provide the esoteric and occult community with superior magical content, in a manner supportive of our artists and authors, and which also possesses a sense of perpetuity in magical time. Here I feel it is important to clarify that “content” is not only the book’s subject matter, and its actual texts and images. It is also the substance comprising the book, its materials, design, and a peculiar quality I might call numen or radiance. These things speak to a reader with a different voice than text and image, but they convey magical language just the same. With regard to perpetuity, I am specifically referring to a book’s relevance, not only to the present generation of readers, but also future ones.NP: Could you tell us about the process of producing your fine editions?
DS: The fine editions, being the best-quality bindings of any given title, arise very much from the nexus of the ‘Three Hands’ aforementioned: -- Writer, Publisher, and indwelling Spirit of the Book. This is to say
that we work closely with our writers in the design work to manifest each book as it should be, taking three major bibliomorphic vectors into consideration. When I say ‘Spirit of the Book’, this refers to its animating force, but also the field of aesthetic resonance it generates about itself as it moves from inspiration to manuscript to embodiment. In this process events happen in the magical field, as well as in real-time. A particular colour may come to dominate the sensorium of the author, chance occurrences’ lead to refinement of design parameters, a series of dreams or a cascade of mutual epiphanies may generate a seed-crystal which contains the entirety of a book’s gross and subtle anatomy. Sometimes a design arises because a book accretes a particularly adverse set of circumstances about it, and this resistance to aesthetic imposition liberates the whole from an inappropriate incarnation, giving way to something previously unimaginable. There is a vivifying power for each book which unites force and form as a trajectory from inspiration through manifestation.
In terms of craftsmanship we have been blessed to work with a number of fine artisans in the fields of illustration, bookbinding, engraving, papermaking, printing and tanning, as well as the newer fields of digital sculpting and type design. We have an enormous amount of respect for these time-honored disciplines, but at the same time recognize and incorporate new technologies such as digital typesetting. Years ago, when I was learning letterpress printing, I appreciated digital layout as never before after spending a day hand-setting a single page of metal type.NP: How do you decide on your limitations for each print run?
DS: Each title is different. For certain texts, numbers may be readily apparent as a numerological arcanum, as with Robert Fitzgerald’s A Gathering of Masks
. The deluxe edition, limited to 44, numerically resonated with the enumerated aspects of the “Genii of the Domes”, the book’s chief concern. Where a numerological basis does not arise from the text itself, the limitation number may be commemorative, or may have personal significance to the author. Larger limitations such as with standard hardcover editions, are often governed by economic feasibility: because we refuse to print on demand, or use other inferior technologies, we generate books via offset lithography, and this is the more expensive route; there is a certain production threshold which must be attained.NP: How do you feel about the idea of “grimoire scalping” -- that is, people purchasing your fine editions solely to sell them at a profit soon after they’ve sold out from the publisher?
DS: Looking at Xoanon, one of the things that sets it apart from other occult publishers is that it seeks to place its books in the hands of those worthy of owning them. This longstanding policy is explained concisely on its web site, and will of course continue. Here, the best editions of the work are offered only to a small group of people of established character, a relationship of trust which has been built up over time. However, this group is not static, it evolves. Similarly, Xoanon refuses to offer certain fine editions to some individuals. With Three Hands Press, a similar situation is in effect, though somewhat more liberal. Both strategies limit the problem, but not entirely. My personal feelings about ‘grimoire scalping’ have less to do with the money aspect of it than the particular streak of character demonstrated by someone who
lists one of our deluxe editions on eBay for five times our selling price, a day after the book is released. While the market certainly allows for this, a great many people find this behaviour distasteful, myself included. However, let us be clear: producers of fine occult editions cannot complain too loudly about speculators, because, like a certain stratum of organisms on the food-chain, they are a small but important
force in the market.NP: What events do you have planned for the 20th anniversary of Xoanon? I know you will be exhibiting at the Esoteric Book Conference. Could you tell us a bit about that?
DS: Xoanon Publishing is the visible surface manifestation of a largely secret magical organisation, the Cultus Sabbati. Its main point of outer engagement is through the magical book. However, the Exhibition may be likened to a magical book that, when opened, becomes self-reflective. Thus, those in attendance will have a larger view of our corpus of work, and how it relates to a historical procession of magical text over time. It will also allow the viewer to look at books on display comprising the rarest editions, which are sometimes limited to only a handful of copies. The magical relationship between these scarce editions to the standard versions, also rare in their own right, will be explicit. As part of the event we have a unique limited edition art print as well as an exhibition catalogue available. Further, we will have several books on display that exist wholly on the inner circle, the so-called ‘Monadic Transmissions’ of which there are only single copies extant. Finally, concurrent with the exhibit will be the release of EIKOSTOS, an official bibliography of Xoanon’s last 20 years, with technical data on all editions, rare images, and historical information. Providing the Daimones
of the Book will it, there will be some of these at the Exhibition too.NP: What’s next on the slate for Three Hands?
DS: September 3rd will see release of Andrew Chumbley’s “The Leaper Between”, his now-classic research on the Toad Bone Amulet for used for gaining witchcraft power. Although a small book at only 66 pages, its design was a labour of love by many different hands, and is a manifestation I am particularly pleased with. We also will be releasing Arcanum Bestiarum
, a modern bestiary by Robert Fitzgerald, by September’s end. This autumn we will be publishing Michael Howard’s book on Witchcraft in Scotland, followed by Opuscula Magica 3
by Andrew D. Chumbley, which contains a selection of his previously-unpublished academic essays. We also have a number of titles in progress for 2013 and 2014, including my own “Granary of the Fauns,” a 600-page work which has been in process for 25 years.