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Occult Seattle: Text & Traditions Colloquium and Mortlake Book Fair

engraving of a witches' sabbath, attributed to Bartholomaeus Spranger, from "Histoire des imaginations extravagantes de Monsieur Oufle" (1710). (source: Wellcome Collection)

Even with the collected knowledge of generations literally at our fingertips, there’s something to be said for the printed word. It’s undeniably exciting to page through a 600-year-old vellum-bound manuscript, knowing it will outlive you and everyone you know. And while it doesn’t really matter if wisdom comes from the digital realm or from something printed in the age of Gutenberg, it feels like there’s some extra magic in the pages of a well-worn book.

William Kiesel of Ouroboros Press is well aware of the link between books and magic. He established his esoteric publishing house 16 years ago and also runs Mortlake and Company, a bookshop/art gallery in Seattle that hosts classes and monthly art shows in addition to selling new, used, and antiquarian books on a variety of occult themes.

interior of Mortlake and Company in Seattle, Washington

“I’ve been interested in the occult since I was a teenager,” Kiesel says. “Back then, if you wanted something that wasn’t just at your local mall bookstore, you had to go to antiquarian shops or you had to go to university libraries or that sort of thing, and really do some more digging. And I became obsessed with finding rare books and seeing some of this material that you’d read about in other books or see in bibliographies, but never really ever saw for sale.”

Visitors to Mortlake and Company can now benefit from his years of collecting and research when they browse the shelves of constantly changing books – everything from ancient Greek magic to spiritualism to Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Grant.

This month Kiesel will continue a nine-year tradition as he hosts the Text & Traditions Colloquium and Mortlake Book Fair, a two-day event in Seattle exploring esoteric thought and practice. The colloquium will feature speakers from around the world sharing their expertise on subjects as varied as witchcraft, Icelandic stave magic, and Renaissance-era alchemist John Dee. For my fellow witchy librarians, there’s even a presentation on esoteric bookplates!

letterpress folding plate from “The Al-Azif of the Mad Poet Abdul Alhazred,” published by Mortlake Book Fair vendor Viatorium Press

The Mortlake Book Fair, which is free and open to the public, will feature new releases from contemporary esoteric publishers as well as used and antiquarian booksellers who specialize in occult themes. With more than a dozen confirmed vendors, expect everything from affordable paperbacks to deluxe fine bindings.

Topping off the weekend is a Saturday night art show and reception at Mortlake and Company in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. The reception, an exhibition of prints from an artists’ print exchange themed “Ascent through Descent,” will allow conference speakers, attendees, and artists to mingle and have “a more laid back, social time after the conference during the day,” Kiesel says. The work will remain on display at Mortlake and Company through the end of September.

Mortlake and Company attracts visitors from around the world, proving that there’s still a deep appreciation for the physical in the esoteric community. If you plan to visit from out of town, make contact in advance – the shop’s hours are limited, but they will also open by appointment.

WHAT: Text & Traditions Colloquium and Mortlake Book Fair
WHERE: Greenwood Masonic Lodge, 7910 Greenwood Ave North, Seattle, WA 98103
WHEN: September 15-16, 2018
COLLOQUIUM TICKETS (entry to the Mortlake Book Fair is free)

The Ascent through Descent Artists’ Reception will take place on Saturday, September 15 from 8:00-10:00 PM at Mortlake and Company, 121 Prefontaine Place South, Seattle, WA 98144.

Written By

Jane is an archivist and writer based in Washington State.

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