As admirers and readers of the work released by Montreal based Anathema Publishing, it was a long time coming to finally form a friendly relationship with the man behind the operation. What started as a social media video on the Covenant Instagram to show off the utter brilliance of one of the PILLARS journals, developed into a correspondence and ultimately into this interview you see before you.
Gabriel McCaughry is a man of many, potent words, who publishes the works of other men and women of many, potent words. His small, but fierce, publishing house works with esteemed authors of many paradigms. The talismanic, ornate nature of these books often are the first telling signs that you are indeed holding an Anathema release.
Through the course of questions between Gabriel and Covenant’s Thor Dehr, we received more insight than we could have imagined! There is a deep wisdom to his words that feel beyond his years. We are privileged to preserve most of the conversation below. Steady the senses and dig in …
Origin stories are as varied as the individuals behind them. Nothing could be more true in the context of a small-batch publishing house dedicated to obscure tomes. To dig into the grassroots of Anathema’s manifestation, we prod McCaughry to divulge the spark of his fire. Consistent with our metaphor, he explains, “I’ve always been one to fan the flames of my creative impulses, and I’ve always enjoyed following my passions wherever they lead me.” Unrestricted to just the medium of publishing, this level of abandon extended to all areas of his becoming; whether “starting a metal band, designing a product, planning events, or rallying people around a certain plan or idea,” he carries that same passion. In that same vein, Anathema Publishing also came to be.
The whole idea and impetus behind Anathema really felt like answering a certain ‘call’ as a ‘duty,’ less so than just another pastime, or artistic project.
After several years of playing in extreme metal bands, beginning with Unquintessence and Trails of Anguish in the late nineties and early 2000’s, and touring intensely with Ion Dissonance and Vatican, Gabriel soon realized that as fun as it was, there was a creative and spiritual void that needed to be addressed. “Since I’ve always been hugely fascinated by the mysteries, I decided to start investigating the occult in a more serious manner … Enough so that years afterward, I was able to share my findings, deductions, and to a certain extent personal practice via articles I wrote between 2008-2009.”
This formative exploration culminated and exploded into a three-month trip throughout Asia Minor to discover first-hand the power behind the mysteries in their place of origin. “The circumambient spiritual quality of the place truly impacted me,” he reveals. “Then everything came together: the name, the intent behind it all, and the main seal/symbol I would end up using — everything.” Returning home, the work to bring it all to life began.
A sincere love of quality books has followed Gabriel throughout his life. However, the jump from book-lover to proprietor of fine pieces of literary art was another step entirely. Things had to start small out of necessity, “I had no clue how to start any business by myself, and knew relatively few people with relevant experience; I had no resources but my own to invest. However, what I did have was experience as a graduated and professional graphic designer by trade who’s worked in the pre-press field for over 20 years now,” he tells us. Not a bad start at all. Add in a fiery passion for collecting limited edition printed books, rarities, and beautifully bound books, and the path was cleared for his developing endeavour.
Before any beginning, there is a blank canvass of potential waiting to be painted by a wide range of influential colours. With any individual involved in matters of the spirit, the inevitable question arises: What brought your curiosity to the subject of the occult as a point of practice and study?
“This may sound a bit dry, but often people are interested in knowing how it ‘starts’ rather than how things evolve, which I usually find more interesting; one retroactively embellishes and romanticizes how his relationship with the occult actually started to make it sound more epic than it truly was. This is something I’ve been guilty of doing more than once.”
It is true that most interviewers seem to want a list of arcane secrets and wild personalities to lump the practitioner into a neat compartmentalization. In fact, anyone can certainly name influences that made an early impact, although “for the most part, I probably have moved away from them as things unfolded and as my understanding of the material evolved”, he says.
Unsurprisingly, we find that some of the texts and authors that first left their indelible impression were “Andrew D. Chumbley’s corpus of work, Crowley of course, various classical grimoires (such as the Grimorium Verum, of the Book of Abramelin, etc.), some theological work by Blavatski, mystical poetry à la Rumi or Omar Khayyam, Gibran, various classical Alchemy works (Flamel, Paracelsus, Agrippa, etc.), numerous Gnostic texts (which I study to this day), along with Robert Cochrane/Evan John Jones/Shani Oates and the Clan of Tubal Cain’s material (which lead to me publishing Shani, of course).” Not so secretly, we wanted to be indulged with such a list, and after this revelation we know we’re in very good company.
Of course we require Gabriel’s take on the role of music in occult study. There seems to be a growing schism with some specific currents intertwined with musicians trying to distance themselves from music as a tool in ritual praxis. Meanwhile, other prominent writers have literally written grimoires with companion albums or expand their messages into specific albums themselves.
His opinion is just about as expected: “Music is an integral part of life, and quite the primordial tool for opening minds — which ties in to the importance of experience in the world of phenomena. Certainly, music has been a great passion of mine for years”, he explains. As the frontman and lyricist for many musical projects over the years, McCaughry sees music as “a vehicle moving emotions back and forth, and intuiting (or pointing towards) certain doorways warranting further investigation.” The musician can channel this energy in a very primal, quasi-shamanistic way to great effect.
… as a ritual aid, certain types of music can help regulate breath, help to focus during contemplative work (so long as one is able to sweep aside the imagery that may unfold during the listening of music), and in certain specific — dare I say radically-challenging — ritual works, music can enhance the overall ambience to a point of saturation, thereby strengthening one’s resolve to a breaking point and then bringing forth a subsequent clarity.
It is a very primal tool that we can see from the ancients, to the so-called primitives, to modern practice of all sorts. This is most readily found, “with certain drone-like rhythms of handmade drums, bells, singing bowls, liturgical chants, and the repetitive uttering of mantras, or galdrs (throat vibrations in specific words, runes, or ‘keys’), performed around a fire during a ritual.” Gabriel seems to speak from experience.
And your listening habits as of late?
“Personally, I have my favorites which I will listen to during times like my morning meditation. But these are neither required per se, nor do I necessarily advocate such a practice as being mandatory by any means. If it works for you, fine; if it is in any way distracting, perhaps it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Ambient music and some instrumental folk seem to be particularly conducive to proper mind states. I very much appreciate the work of: Sounds of Isha, Arktau Eos, Alone In The Hollow Garden, Sacra Fern, O Saala Sakraal, CHVE, and Visions.
Now, when it comes to music which can take you to distant lands, engages the very root of imagination, and stimulates inspiration (music I will often listen to during writing process, for instance), I very much enjoy the work of: Ulver, Goran Bregovic, Hexvessel, Cities Last Broadcast, Levon Minassian, Atrium Carceri, Gurdjieff/De Hartmann, Érik Satie, Beyond Sensory Experience, Marconi Union, John Coltrane, Death & Vanilla, L’enfant De La Forêt, and Wardruna… but admittedly these days I do listen to quite a lot of podcasts as well.”
Let’s not dance around the elephant in the room here (after all this is primarily an extreme metal music zine), and Gabriel gets us back on course. “It would be somewhat disingenuous of me not to mention black metal, or metal in general, since I’ve been part of that scene and have been very fond of since I first heard Necrophobic’s Nocturnal Silence in 1994.” Now we know we’re in even better company.
“My view on it, however, has changed through the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of bands that have toured extensively, recording numerous records in the studio, travelled and ‘lived’ off music for a while, etc. A couple of years back, I would’ve probably gone on and on about the revelatory aspects of music and of performing live.
But as things progressed, and my occult, or contemplative, practice developed, deeper considerations altered how I viewed metal music in the regard. The raw immediacy and sharpness of it all is quite efficient as a wind blow/breath enlivening the flames of Nigredo. And so, with proper technique and dedication one can use this art as a catalyst for ‘surviving’ the Calcination process. Of course, a lot of people get wholly consume by the flame and are bound to remain at this Nigredo level, but that’s another story in and of itself.”
Anyone interested in this wider world of oddities, spiritual conduits, and dark delights, usually can trace a path back to a teenagehood of heavy metal, industrial, goth, or punk worship. We love what we love, and we always will. Though we need to be realistic here, and Gabriel again brings us down to Earth:
“[L]et’s face it: most ‘occult-looking’ bands out there are just plastering symbols they do not fully understand one on top of the other. They present a facade of esotericism which is quite superficial at best, and plain fallacious at worst. That does not mean their music is not masterfully executed – and the whole aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, in a very idiosyncratic way.”
“But nonetheless, for younger people this music can open their eyes to the possibility that there is something more out there in the wild that is worth investigating further. For this reason, it’ll take more than engaging with the music or the imagery, or even starting your own project; it’ll require you to completely rehaul your life, re-evaluate your values, and push against your limitations — even outside of your ‘comfort zone’ of Metal music (or any kind of music or art done for the sake of enjoying art).”
At the moment Gabriel is the vocalist of BLIGHT, a black metal band who has recently finished recording a new album entitled Temple of Wounds – a direct conceptual continuation of his first book h)Aurorae. The record will ultimately bridge to what will be a second book, currently in progress. Something to keep a keen eye on.
ERECTING THE PILLARS
Anathema Publishing perhaps is best known for the unparalleled journal series PILLARS. Currently, the first issue of the second volume has been released, with the first volume having three issues itself, and each issue thus far having many different contributors. Each issue selects a greater focus topic and prompts writers to deliver their submissions free of restraint, be it time, opinion, or paradigm. It is a swarm of ideas and opinions from many of the most prominent, challenging, and unique voices in the occult zeitgeist.
With so many different minds approaching similar subjects, the clash of ideas must be inevitable and cause conflict on some level. The widely different viewpoints next to each other for the reader’s context is curious.
“I’d say that precisely the whole pointy of this exercise is to have a meeting of minds, which can harmoniously tie to one another — or clash and create an interesting dichotomy when exploring a particular facet of the Arte Magickal or mystical inquiry.”
The freedom given to authors must be a refreshing blank-slate. Gabriel further elucidates that, “the idea is not to direct the minds, nor to have a single viewpoint,” in fact, because of the general nature of the theme, “it is explored via the different lenses of the individual authors and artists, who of course distill a theme through their perceptual and practical filter: i.e. tradition, lineage, system, and philosophy”. Even among perceived duality and ‘clashing’ viewpoints, often there is a singular thread running across the whole, and further points of connection are made or realized.
Even in a niche subculture that attempts to shatter the ego, the lure of materialism and stamp-collecting is all pervasive. The world of 2nd hand rarity books has only expanded more aggressively as time goes on. On one hand, it seems some people see higher prices on used books as a signal of that specific publication’s Gnostic value and usefulness, while others see it as a source of profiteering.
In Gabriel’s opinion, the idea that higher cost could be indicative of a ‘greater’ Gnostic value is a sad thing to even discuss and wholly ridiculous. He tries to help us understand the ‘collector’s impulse,’ and, in fact, he is even guilty of “paying extraordinary amounts of money to complete a collection, or acquire a specific, hard to find tome. But of course, the second-hand market is often out of control and makes no sense whatsoever.” It’s based upon a rabid, all-too-human impulse perhaps.
Yes, beautifully bound books in small-run batches, with incredible materials and design, will fetch higher prices by default — these are harder and harder to make as time goes by and as printed and properly bound publications go out of style in the general populace. It is what it is, and should not otherwise impact primary or secondary markets, but in the Occult world it verily seems that presentation is often mistaken for quality of content as well.
To a publisher like Gabriel, both are equally important and should be complimentary. Prices often need to reflect production costs and support future projects. It’s as simple as that. The disrespect of reselling a piece of art for nothing more than profit affects the producers in the first place and the genuine seekers as well. Quite often this is case with books that are not even sold-out and still available from the publisher or first-hand distro. To him, this is a much worse practice.
What do we do about it? He tells us, “to eradicate this problem, buyers should go about truly researching more if ever they want to acquire a specific title and check with the publisher first if they know of a certain place where they can acquire it at a relatively fair price.”
Running a publishing house must be an incredible way to open the self to a stunning array of different esoteric influences, origins, goals, ritual settings, and so on. We are curious if this time and dedication to Anathema has altered Gabriel’s own path by showing him something he may not have otherwise seen.
“Absolutely, and irreversibly so, yes.” Having been in a sort of metaphysical isolation in Montreal, Gabriel as a self practitioner remained “singularly alone in having this deep interest and propensity for the mysteries and for esoteric studies.”
“Via Anathema, I was able to connect with much more knowledgeable characters as I ever was, and this ‘association’ (and given the fact that I often incorporate new material into my own), has propelled my writings and inquiries much further — deepening my devotion to a considerable degree as well.”
His pursuits were refined – sharpening the blade so to speak. “Being shown different methodologies, points of view, and philosophies, [revealed to] me that, in essence, specialization trumps generalization, but that at the most subtle levels, all such dichotomies and distinction vanishes — only language at the surface is different, and even then — but the ground of reality is verily all-encompassing and all-emptying.”
The opposite must be true as well. With such a flood of ideas and submissions of text, there must be a number of red flags that one knows to avoid.
In fact they are, “too numerous for me to list here. I get all sorts of manuscripts in the ol’ inbox, ranging from the purely fantastical, to the outright insane, but mostly, and sadly, they are just unprofessional and unfocused,” he reveals. “Which, at least, as a silver lining, makes it a bit easier to determine those that are genuine and interesting enough to warrant publication. Alas, these are very few and far between.” The cream always rises to the top.
To maintain a certain level of commitment to quality, whilst working on fresh material and finding new authors and illustrators to work with, is a struggle. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one, Gabriel insists. “As time flies by and the reputation of Anathema grows, then new exciting projects can emerge, and new relationships can develop.”
One of the best advantages that the small, passion-driven occult publishing house has is often a higher quality: clothbound hard covers, beautiful and simplified artwork, hand numbering, and other traits to make long-lasting, personally valuable works, let alone the actual content included. This must be a thrilling and daunting process. How on Earth do you keep up this high standard of quality?
Time is of the essence, money is always a stress and a gamble, delays are enormous, and every step of the way, whether it be editing/correcting, layout and design, revisions, proofing, artworks, promotion, events, all of it needs to be meticulously addressed whilst maintaining due course ahead, and making everyone engaged in the process (readers/customers included) happy and calm.
With each release potentially being a make-or-break situation for the company, every product requires the extra mile, the sleepless nights, the needed moments of meditation to stay sane, and the utmost high standards – that goes without saying. The catch 22 is that this required attention to detail is what makes it all the most challenging.
It sounds like a dangerous dance of balance that Gabriel masters tome by tome.
All currents have quite clearly defined methodology: days of the year, ingredients, mantras, formulas of calling, and so on. With these workings becoming more widespread, a person in Canada for instance, may not be able to gather an ingredient only found in parts of Africa or small parts of Europe in the original intended tradition.
With the opportunity before us, we ask Gabriel if he believes that magical traditions should hold fast, or is there room for development beyond the constrains of strict boundaries.
My opinion on the matter is quite irrelevant as I do not hold the ‘truth’ in the palm of my hand when it comes to such specifics. I do have a practice which encompasses various elements some people would agree should probably not be mixed, and yet I prefer holding a viewpoint that is perennial rather than believe in the degradation of the source by the very act of it passing through different vessels. But that matter is entirely personal for now and what matters for me is how the results shape and manifest in my life.
When it comes down to it, Gabriel sees all of these as, “equally superfluous as they can be most important — context often determines the angle of observation.” Overall, he tells us that, “I am more interested in the roots of it all — or rather rootlessness of it all — rather than seeing the mysteries through a certain lens. That being said, I have chosen to express the mysteries in a language which resonates with me at a deeper level, that is: Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Luciferian Gnosticism.” He stresses that these are not closed circles, and in fact, they are transparent systems, which in themselves have the capacity to colour the world with light in a myriad of ways. Similar to a prism. Without making claims of support to a particular tradition over another, he prefers to bring the whole of the work down to the direct experience level, to observe the spontaneous unfolding and outpouring of reality.
“In the words of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, ‘to witness and accomplish the miracles of the One thing.'” Amen.