Betwixt Craft and Cunning
In his book, Cræft: How Traditional Crafts Are About More Than Just Making, archaeologist and cultural historian Alexander Langlands shares an observation that may very well act as a welcome reminder for many of us; we live in a time of cheap and cheerful prefab mod-cons, after all, which is a truth that may have some of us feeling ill at ease.
“As I became more and more engrossed in the traditional ways – and not just historical methods of farming but ways of making and living in the past – it occurred to me that the modern world was depriving us of many of these skills.
“What I saw as a wider knowledge – one that enabled us to exist in a world where our sustenance and survival depended on our interactions with the materials we had at our disposal – was slowly slipping from our grasp.”
Langlands has more experience than most when it comes to traditional craft; fans of British television may recognize him from ‘living history’ programs such as Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, where he, along with other archaeologists, are tasked with using outmoded forms of technology, craft, and folk-based knowledge to run a farm through the seasons. While this may make for engaging television, it also serves as an important reminder to many of us: skilled craft still has its place in our world.
Here at Anathema, we are passionate believers in the traditional craft of bookmaking. We are extremely proud to work regularly with artisans and skilled craftsmen and women – be they stampers, binders, endpaper makers, or printers. And although we still have a great appreciation for those who choose to work in more generalized fields of production, there is a lovely and admirable nuance involved in the specialized craft we employ. These are experts who have chosen the path of specialization in their work so that tradition may endure.
We also, humbly, consider our work at Anathema to be a part of that continuum. Gabriel, for instance, holds the specialization of typography as a prominent raison d'être – the precise and often maddening process of giving shape and form to blocks of text can produce wonderful and engaging results.
For my part, the editing process is something I care deeply about. Sometimes a writer gives you something so well written that it requires nothing at all; other times, you can see the thoughts and ideas on a page struggling to free themselves. It is a pleasure to be a part of a process that helps to do so.
Making a book is an undertaking that requires time and patience. We rely on the skill of everyone involved. We are always learning, honing, practicing, and refining. This is our craft, our Magnum Opus.
And if the myriad crafts involved in bookmaking can, in some small way, contribute to the Great Work, then our efforts are with purpose. If a book can be greater than the sum of its parts – from binding and stamping to the text and endpapers – then it also has the power to change the lives of those who assist in its creation. This is why we do what we do, and, in our individual ways, we are transformed because of it.
To embrace craft and specialized skill is to be humbled. We stand (or, more likely sit when working on a book) in the shadow of countless masters who have pushed forward in the hopes of making something beautiful and true. And so, we strive to follow, to learn, to uphold tradition, to continue on with a work that bring us closer to the ground, in a manner of speaking. Making us more of the earth than of the divine, we are nonetheless blessed to do what we do. And we are all the more thankful for it.
Whether you may be a devotee, a drunken monk, wandering hermit, armchair occultist, or simply a curious reader, we encourage you to also get out of your comfort zone. Step away from the well-worn path, far from the warmth of your home, and discover a new sacred place where you can commune with nature and crack open the new Anathema book you’ve just acquired. We hope that it will do you some good, as it has for us.
“Once the text(s) has been selected, the reading material should be housed in a specific location within the environment of the Cell. This enables the text to accumulate the radiations of the attention of the devotee, and become imbued with the sacramental fire of praxis. Over time, the mere holding of the text will elicit a strong involuntary involution of awareness for the devotee. Therefore, respect and care should be directed toward the chosen sacred texts once used and housed within the sacred space of the Cell. There are essentially four stages within the praxis of Lectio Divina: reading, reflection, response, and rest. Each one of these stages is a step which slowly distills the awareness and attention of the devotee in order to achieve a complete transformation of consciousness – which burns away the egoic obfuscations residing within the mind and body.” ~Williams, Craig. Entering the Desert, Anathema Publishing Ltd. (2018), p.83.
PS: Here’s a bunch of inspiring videos for you all ;)