Review : The Ghastling Book One

Now, where did I first see The Ghastling…I think it was over on Instagram but I can’t exactly be sure. All I know is that suddenly it was in my life, and I burnt my fingers typing in my bank account details to purchase the first book in the five book series. I had a feeling that it would give me the same satisfaction as Misty Annuals had done back in the early 90’s. I HAD TO HAVE IT. The Ghastling is one of those print publications where I find myself thinking ‘How the fuck did I only JUST NOW find out about this?’ It’s been on the scene of the weird since 2014 and I feel somewhat embarrassed that it’s taken until 2017 for it to come across my radar. But it’s here now, and that’s what really matters.

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Founder and editor Rebecca Parfitt has been working in publishing since 2006 and it was in 2014 that she founded The Ghastling, a literary magazine devoted to ghost stories, the macabre and the oh-so strange…

As I dug a little bit deeper – I have the tendency to want to know almost too much about people. I’m English, it’s what we do – I discovered that Rebecca – talented woman that she is – is also a writer of fiction and poetry. Her debut collection The Days After is published by Listen Softly London and it’s on going on my ‘to buy list’ IMMEDIATELY.

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But back to The Ghastling. I bought the first issue for about £14 plus P&P from Amazon and it arrived pretty swiftly. Could have been a bit quicker, but it’s just because I’m an impatient bitch wanting her dose of 1st class horror yesterday.

First impression when I tugged the slim but gorgeously printed publications out of his cardboard sleeve was ‘yes, wow, love it, yes, freaky as shit front cover illustration…kind of reminds me of myself when I get out of bed in the morning, fucking yes I’m glad I bought this.’ And then I opened it up. And I nearly died.

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Memories from my childhood, from the Misty Annuals, from all the beautifully illustrated ghost story books, from all the Enchanted World Series volumes…they all came flooding back as I carefully leafed through the pages.

I was bowled over by the gorgeousness of each page’s layout, of the vintage illustrations peppered throughout, of the contemporary artwork that periodically appeared including two haunting paintings ‘Jane’ and ‘Sarah’ by Anthony Ryes.

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Then I started proper. The editorial letter was spot the fuck on. I love a good, strong editorial that leaves me chomping at the bit. That’s exactly what Rebecca’s did. Here’s an extract:

‘Our fears take on many shapes and forms: from the intangible – the lurking shadows in the periphery of the mind; to our own mortality and fear of what comes after and will it come back for us…? Whether they occupy our real or imaginary space, they manifest and structure our everyday lives – this is what it feels like to exist.’ – Editorial

Opposite the editorial was what’s probably one of my most adored darkly inspired illustrations in recent years by the writer and graphic artist Paul O’ Connell. 

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Then followed the ghosts and the oddballs and I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the couch with each page turned. The writing of every story was exquisite – Rebecca makes for a solid editor – suitably tingling my spine. I get weak at the knees at the sight of a good ghost story and I was left so freakingly satisfied. Now, while I didn’t relish each and every one, several of them will be re-read and re-read and re-read. The stories I’ll be thumbing again include A Cold Calling by the brilliant Fay Franklin which I wish had been a few pages longer.

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‘Have you ever met a ghoul? Well, no, of course you haven’t. But it’s a term we use so loosely these days that we think we should know what it means. Those faces, the ones in the cars crawling past a recent road accident, peering out, goggle-eyed, at the scene of death and devastation on the other side of the road. They’re the ghouls of our modern world.’ – A Cold Calling

Another couple I’ll be visiting again are Knock Knock by Storm Jones, Stitch In Time by Marged Parry and Confession by Christina Thatcher.

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“He had a knack for discovering things,” my mother said to everyone throughout my childhood. When I was 8, I brought her a dead robin that had started decomposing beneath one of our pine trees in the yard; it had some needles stuck to its eyes, chest, and feet and it looked like it had bled out all of its blood.’ – Confession

I always really appreciate it when a magazine features a page of info on the contributors – bloody fascinating stuff that nearly always leads me onto wanting to discover yet more about who I’ve just encountered.

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All in all in all, The Ghastling was a magnificent little publication and it’s inspired me, massively so in fact, to really push HARD with the press I’m going to be establishing. As soon as I’m able, I’ll be swooping over to The Ghastling to pick myself up the other four issues.

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A Living Witch Reviews Sabat Magazine : The Mother Issue

I ritualistically put some water on the stove to make some tea, tidied the shit off my desk (the kitchen table) and lit two white candles in preparation for writing this review of Sabat Magazine : The Mother Issue. It’s an extra special publication, so deserves extra special attention.

I sat down, pulled my chair up my laptop, poised my fingers above my keyboard and was promptly joined by one of our two cats, Boney. The black and white one. She jumped on the table and before I could breathe, managed to put her tail in one of the candle flames. It was in there for about a second before I batted it out and blew the flames to smoke.

The old lady didn’t even seem to notice, despite the sound and smell of sizzling hair. She was purring throughout the ordeal, and still came for cuddles. Of which I gave her plenty. Dozy, adorable thing.

Anyway, cats aside, lets get into this.

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When I first discovered Sabat  – which began life as a zine while editor Elizabeth Krohn was at London College of Fashion – I started hyperventilating. As a print fanatic, pagan witch and enthusiast of the macabre a magazine about modern day occultism seemed almost too good to be true.

I lapped up web page after web page of previews. It became almost an obsession – to find whatever I could to do with this scripture for the modern witch. I started visualizing what it would be like to hold its heavy weight in my hands, to flip the pages and take in that heady scent of paper and ink, to fall into its layers of type and imagery.

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But when the time arrived for the launch of The Maiden Issue, the money to buy wasn’t there, and then, when it was there, it had sold out. I can still remember my heart dropping into my stomach. I frantically scoured the web hoping to find a copy second hand, but nothing came up. Not surprising really. This isn’t something you buy to sell on.

I didn’t make the same mistake with The Mother Issue. I set money aside and when it was launched, I practically threw an issue into my online basket. It turned out to be the best £21 (that was with P&P) I’ve ever spent on anything printed.

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The bang the magazine made when it dropped through the letter box was reassuringly loud, and, despite making a speedy journey across Europe, it arrived in immaculate condition. (I’ve actually kept the cardboard envelope it came it. It’s proved ever so useful.)

No wanting to spoil my new arrival, I washed my hands before taking it out of it’s packaging and the first time I held it, I made sure not to bend the spine or crease the pages. Yes, I’m one of those types.

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Despite everything I’d read about The Mother Issue – the first issue was dedicated to teen witches of every age – through my initial flick through I could see so much that the internet hadn’t revealed.

I wanted to sit and read it all in one go, you know what it’s like when you’re so fucking excited about a new printed thing, especially when it’s shown so much promise. But I knew I’d regret it if I rushed. I knew that if I wanted to experience all it’s splendour, I’d have to take it slowly. And take it slowly I did. Over about a week actually.

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I don’t want to reveal everything (I do want to reveal everything, every minute detail of this impeccable publication) because that wouldn’t be fair. Surprises make life worth while, so I’ll make sure there are some left, should you decide to make the excellent decision to bring a copy into your life.

The cover – which is astoundingly, gorgeously, reassuringly thick and will probably outlive mankind – features gorgeous model Cassey Chanel photographed by the extraordinarily talented Lolo Bates. I’m besotted with the chunky typeface used for the title, and the ‘simplicity’ of the design overall, a welcome visual relief from all the crowdedness I’m used to seeing slapped on the front of magazines.

The back cover, though minimal, is just as impressive. But I’ll leave you to discover that on your own. The edge printing is something I can’t keep quiet though. This is probably one of the most unique aspects of Sabat’s design. Turn the pages one way, and you can the cycles of the moon. Turn the pages the other way, and fetal development becomes visible. I’m not going to tell you how long I marveled at this for.

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Normally I get frustrated when publishers decide to put a few blank pages in before getting to the contents – says the woman who hates crowded covers – but on this occasion, the sparseness works only to enhance the enjoyment.

I’m a sucker for ‘more information’ so turning to find a full page letting me in on who was involved in the magazine’s creation, right down to which papers were used, I knew Sabat was the magazine I’d been waiting for my whole life. I scribbled down names I knew I’d want to Google later on.

The Editor’s Letter – which I often skip in most magazines –  was enthralling and thought-provoking, opening the gate to what I knew would be an invaluable experience creatively, spiritually and emotionally.

‘What is mother? This second issue of Sabat tries to cast light on what is, to me, one of the most mysterious of female archetypes. Persistent in her duality, mother is vastness, Nature, a love unyielding and beyond, sacrifice and almighty power, creation and destruction embodied. She performs the ultimate act of human magic, creating new life. Yet in this she reminds us of the cycle of life. Ripe with vitality, she is also the one who whispers of death. A memento mori at the peak of the harvest, calling us to take our place in the circle, or to come home, well knowing what that entails.’

The first feature in the magazine is probably one of my favourites. What Is On Your Alter? examines the roles alters have, and asks the #witchesofinstagram to show theirs. (This is also the first time that the special transparent paper inserts are introduced, creating effects unlike any I’ve seen in any other magazine). One of the alters featured in this brilliant, insightful investigation is that of Katie Karpetz @witcheryway

‘My ancestral alter changes with the seasons. On this alter I just have holly which allegedly invites friendly spirits into the home, a string of rowan berries that I made and dried to bring healing, success and protection in the coming new year. Each side also has a cup of vodka as an offering to my Slavic ancestors and pieces of quartz to amplify.’

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I felt a lump start to take form in my throat when I read Other Mother, a feature written by Pam Grossman who ‘conjures the many form of Mother.’

‘She creates, sustains. The mother gives everything, and then gives even more. She loves us, and for this we love her in return.’

Pam’s deeply insightful, deeply touching writing – accompanied by exquisitely raw photography by Helena Darling had me trembling to my core, the respect for my own mother growing with every line I read. I just wanted to swim across the North Sea, reach out for the woman who birthed me and hold her like she held me for thirty years.

‘They treat those in their care with immense tenderness, but any threats to their family unit and they are utterly obliterated.’

The Full Moon by Dana Fox @sirfoxglove is a short yet compelling feature which illuminated me with new knowledge about the full moon, which has, interestingly and weirdly enough, been blamed for nosebleeds and voting strategy. One thing Dana writes which has stuck with me is that ‘there is room for everything at night, especially when the moon is full.’

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Crystal Visions is made up of an excellent interview with the inspirational  Bri Luna.  The visionary behind The Hoodwitch, which provides ‘everyday magic for the modern mystic,’ invites us to climb under her skin and learn about what Mother means for her. And the photography for this piece by Allyce Andrew and Micheal Pierce is just everything.

‘Being a Witch to me is being free. Being able to be your authentic self, knowing that there is more in this world than our eyes can see.’

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There are frequent breaks in text for moments of art and photography, including various photoshoots, my favourite being Luna, featuring the ethereal visage of cover model Cassey Chanel and more photography by Lolo Bates.

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Hidden Mother is another favourite entry. Linda Fregni Nagler is Swedish-Italian artist who, entirely by chance by browsing on Ebay, encountered a photograph captioned ‘funny baby with hidden mother.’ This find led to her creating and curating an impressive archive of over 1000 photos of this bizarre but bewitching practice.

‘I realised that the guy who was selling it knew a lot about what is interesting in an image – underlining what was absent, not what was present.’

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When I closed Sabat, I held it to my heart – as sickeningly cliche as that sounds, it’s true – and I silently thanked Elizabeth for having the vision and devotion to bring this publication into existence. I thanked her and everyone else involved for manifesting a magazine that satisfied me, inspired me and made me ever more inquisitive. There is so much more that (I’ve wanted to but) haven’t mentioned because you deserve some wonders of your own discovery.

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If you’re a practicing witch, or if modern day occultism is, in any way a part of your life, and you have a weakness for sublime print, densely rich writing and unparalleled art and design, Sabat Magazine is for you.

Thankfully, the first issue of Sabat is being re-printed, and the third issue The Crone Issue, (check out the promo video below) is available to pre-order. If you need me, I’ll be waiting by the letterbox writing my next post about a recent thrift haul.

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*Many thanks to the beautiful @erzabethbathory for modelling Sabat for this review.