Email interview by Sabrina Selkis
“Praeterlimina is a multi-contributor project centred around Magic and Daemonology, comprising works of art, commentary, and speculative fiction.”
With this interview, we understand a little bit more what the project is and how this one of a kind zine came to life.
Let’s start with something easy, what does Praeterlimina mean?
Lucy: Praeterlimina is a protmanteu of the Latin terms Praeter: meaning beyond, and Limina: meaning boundary or threshold. The project actually started as an offshoot from a book project Chris and I had been working on (and are still working on), which attempted at a kind of experimental demonology, merging early modern philosophy with weird sci-fi ideas. We made up an elaborate, Jakob Böhme-inspired cosmology, part of which was this weird aetherial space outside of the divine cosmos, that exists outside the remit of God’s influence, which we called Terra Praeter Limina: ‘the land beyond the threshold’. It is beyond in both a literal and figurative sense. We thought this pretty well summed up the themes of the zine, which is essentially set in the same reality of the book, and exploring the same themes from a modern perspective.
Can you share with us the birth process of the Project Praeterlimina?
Lucy: Chris and I first started talking about doing a project together way back in October of 2013. We’d met at a Halloween party and Chris mentioned a project he’d been doing in which he’d taken a tiny notebook and filled it with a Latin translation of a piece of text he’d written about demonology, and embellished with elaborate alchemical symbolism. The text actually laid down the fundamental principles of what we eventually dubbed the terra praeter limina. I had recently finished a course in Latin, and said I was interested in going over the text for a second attempt at the book, and was interested in getting a revision of the translation. I’d just finished a course in Renaissance Latin that Autumn, and pretty much jumped at the chance of working on something with Chris, having known him on and off for a couple of years and really loved his art. Over the following weeks and a number of visits to Norwich’s many weird local pubs, the project started to develop into something much bigger.
When it’s eventually finished, the book, dubbed the Liber Parvorum Spirituum or ‘Book of Minor Spirits’, will take the form of a metaphysical bestiary comprised of letters and treatises by a number of magicians and learned individuals from across an alternative version of 17th century Europe.
Chris: Before the genesis of the book my artwork had touched on occult topics; demons, ancient legends and deities (especially Sumerian), but had been anchored in what I consider scientific thought… or at least science fiction! Biology and ecology has long been my passion and direction of study. The ‘Tiny Demons’ which will appear in the Liber Parvorum Spirituum were originally sculptures I created by articulation of real animal bones in configurations very different from their live counterparts. The result being something almost believable but clearly alien. These creatures inspired the story of A. Hazyard, our fictional alchemist and naturalist who summoned them from the void during the reign of Rudolf II and some feature in the stories of Praeterlimina. I think the thread of my creative output lately is the meeting of scientific and spiritual thought. Many would consider these at odds with each other but it’s the dialogue between the two I find fascinating especially during the era of alchemical mysticism in 15thC Europe. There is a kernel of alchemical thought in most of my art which I think comes from my fascination with the tarot. I produced my own deck, the Mercurial Travel Tarot in 2015. Also, the solo albums I’ve released under the name Sirhk are rooted in somewhat Kabbalistic concepts of philosophical transformation which I’ve put together by studying and using tarot. From a somewhat LaVeyan perspective, alchemy can be a metaphor for the artistic process.
Lucy: The blog (later the zine) was originally conceived as a means of generating a base of interest around the book in time for its launch. I was also keen to get some work out into circulation in advance of the release. After a few months of brainstorming, we eventually decided to announce the blog’s launch in August 2014. Chris and Jemma were hosting Urbanmancy an exhibition of their work at Norwich’s Yallops Gallery over a weekend, and holding reading and music events each evening. We devoted the third night to readings of sections from the book, and I read out a talk I’d prepared about the supposed ‘discovery’ of the book. The transcript was published as a lecture from a fictional academic named Professor Linda Franklin, given in 1978 at a thinly disguised version of The Warburg Institute. This is still available on the old blog (http://www.praeterlimina.co.uk/2014/08/the-discovery-of-book-november-1978.html).
To this day you have 4 issues out, who has been involved since Issue 1?
Sean: I’ve been involved since Lucy and Chris came up with the idea of the blog. I’ve an interest in 20th century occultism, Lovecraft, and general weirdness, so I was really thrilled at the invitation to participate.
Lucy: Jemma officially got involved around issue three. By her account, this is largely because she donated her work anonymously late into the formatting process for zines three and four, and was later credited as a contributor. Issue four officially saw our first guest contribution in the form of Theo Paijmans.
Each of you has a different role In Praeterlimina, how do you define them?
Lucy: We don’t really have official roles during much of the creative process – Sean and I do the majority of the writing and Chris does the majority of the art and formatting, although Chris also writes, I do a bit of art (mostly digital collage stuff using GIMP) and Sean is very good at dressing in black and looking enigmatic.
Sean: I’ve also got experience in quality assurance, so I try to proofread our stuff before it goes to print. If you come across any mistakes, those are deliberate stylistic choices and not down to my incompetence!
Lucy: I have pretensions towards publishing, so I tend to refer to myself as a ‘contributing editor’ who doubles up in comms/liaison – in the same sense that Chris doubles up as finance.
Can you sum up the subjects of the issues ? How did you choose them?
Lucy: All of the issues we have produced so far consist of a combination of material that originally appeared on the blog (as well as new material and artworks, and mini-articles intended to give a bit more actual historical background to the largely fictional content of the stories) so when we decided to move to zine format, we based the themes for the first three issues on sub-categories emerging from the blog articles. Zine 1 was more or less intended as a more general introduction to the main themes (magic, hyperstition, weird history, cosmology etc.) while issues 2 and 3 were more specific; Issue 2 being themed around the fictional magazine ‘Occulted Vectors’ (essentially the Praeterlimina universe version of Praeterlimina), and the third looking at the ‘Aftermath of Magic’ – exploring the idea of magic as an unpredictable science, regularly generating unintentional side –effects.
Any hidden messages in the first edition? Or in the following ones?
Since this is a collaborative project, it seems only appropriate to give our answers separately. Therefore:
Lucy: There are and there aren’t. I take an overwhelmingly sceptical attitude to all things esoteric, but at the same time, I personally see Praeterlimina’s raison d’etre as a kind of meta-magic – an experiment with fiction and conspiracy that has the potential of taking on a kind of esoteric power in and of itself. Hyperstition a la Foucault’s Pendulum. For me, that’s really the hidden meaning of Praeterlimina, albeit one that hides in plain sight.
Chris: What she said… but with drawings! I hope people see the subtext, and the humour. But I also hope people come away feeling that magic is a very real force on the world, like an unremembered dream or a frog riding a unicycle.
Sean: As for my contributions, I’ve not put anything so overt as an actual encrypted message into anything I’ve written. This being said, the stuff around ‘Occulted Vectors’ and Jack Londinium (very, very loosely inspired by the infamous rogue philosopher Nick Land) is slowly building to something in my head, but I’m not sure what the nature of it is yet. The same goes for the setting of Newdean, which takes its (tenuous) inspiration from the suburb of Brighton I grew up in.
Is your fan base global? Would you consider translating the issues into other languages?
Lucy: Large portions of the book are technically in Latin, with snatches of Greek and Hebrew where appropriate. We do provide translations in most cases, though. So far we’ve only really sold copies to the English-speaking world, though that may change. It’s hard to tell how well our approach to these subjects would translate over into other literary cultures, though given the role Umberto Eco’s work has played in the background of the project (for me at least), then Italy might be a good place to start.
What attracts you to magic and the occult?
Chris: I’m fascinated by esoteric and magical thought as part of the human condition. I’m a devout sceptic but as an artist I fully accept the possibility of nameless, unseen forces transmitting into my brain from beyond created space.. there is of course, so much we don’t know and the occult seems to me a great way of saying ‘look inward, look outward, try to comprehend all this madness and use it, but don’t expect a sensible conclusion!.. or at least that’s what I just said.
Sean: It’s the draw of the Other, for me. The suggestion that something (literally) extra-ordinary lies alongside mundane existence. So, it’s less a matter about belief in the supernatural or occult (my spiritual beliefs are uninteresting and conventional) as it is an aesthetic, what the much-missed Mark Fisher identified as ‘the eerie’.
Lucy, you are based in Norwich, where should people who are interested in this subject go?
Lucy: I’m actually based in London now, although most copies of Praeterlimina in circulation will still say otherwise. Nonetheless, there are a couple of interesting places I can recommend. Norwich is particularly rich for underground spaces such as Bedford’s Crypt (currently a bar and arts space, where I’ve actually seen Chris play a couple of times), and Jurnet’s bar (another undercroft, which also has some particularly good second hand and antiquarian book stores, probably the best being Tombland Books near the cathedral, which has a section devoted to the occult (which it pairs up with its erotica section – fittingly, in my opinion).
One of the most interesting places is, in fact, Mousehold Heath – a section of woods on the outskirts of the city, which has been the source of the materials for more than one of Chris’s bone creations. It was also the site of one of the darkest episodes in Norwich’s history: the murder of St William of Norwich, which in turn sparked the first ever anti-Jewish pogrom on English soil after a sensationalist pamphlet was published a few years after his death, blaming Norwich’s Jewish population.
It has technically featured in two Praeterlimina stories. It is the setting for parts of the ‘Saltomancy’ story in issue 2 (the Morris dancing one), and was also the inspiration for the woods of Ghastwych, since the north-west corner of the woods is the site of the ruined chapel of St William, whose cult was dissolved some time in the late 16th century when saint cults went out of vogue after the reformation.
Sean, anything similar in Brighton? And Chris?
Chris: If you want to be visited by the supernatural spend a week or two out on the moors in Cornwall or Penwith coast. Also the witchcraft museum in Boscastle is fantastic.
Sean: Brighton has been getting less interesting the more affluent it gets, I’m afraid. The number of esoteric-dedicated shops we have has halved, the only two left being a shop that does native American paraphernalia and a crystal shop. This being said, Wax Factor has a fantastic occult section, as well as being crammed full of weird and wonderful books of all sorts, as does Snooper’s Paradise. We also have some kick-ass churches, especially St. Bartholomew’s, which is one of the grandest churches in the country.
What is next for Praeterlimina?
Lucy: We have a lot of plans in progress at the moment, although it’s difficult to say what sort of time-scale they’re likely to happen in, as we all have jobs, degrees and other creative projects to contend with. However, there are a few things our readers can expect to see, or at least hear noises about in the coming months/years:
Issue 5: The theme for this issue we’re working with at the moment is ‘the human condition’ (the third part of the blurb we usually give to the project, after ‘magic’ and ‘demonology’), and will focus on the psychology and the occult, and serve as a kind of meta-study of the themes of the previous issues. It will have stories by Chris, Sean, and myself, as well as a guest contribution by the writer and poet Alys Earl (https://twitter.com/alysdragon?lang=en). Hopefully we’ll be able to involve Theo Paijmans again on this one, too.
Untitled Praeterlimina webcomic project: This is something currently in scripting stages, and will be an experiment.
Finding Ghastwych – a game: Whether this gets off the ground or not we’ll have to see, but this is currently in planning stages. The plan is to create a text-based roleplaying adventure game set in the Praeterlimina universe, and themed around the ideas first covered in our mini-zine Visiting Ghastwych Abbey.
The book (Liber Parvorum Spirituum): This is something that is always on the horizon. Admittedly, work on this has slowed down considerably since Praeterlimina took precedence as the core project, but on and off work on the book never stopped, and I still have lots of ideas of where I want to take it ultimately. I also think the text itself will have benefited immensely for having the blog/zine serve as a medium for us to work through the ideas which it will ultimately encompass.