Occult E-books meets Mogg Morgan of Mandrake
Part one: The man behind Mandrake
This is part one of an interview with Mogg Morgan, talking to him about his publishing work. The second part, dealing with his involvement with tantra and Eastern traditions in general will follow soon:
DE: Hi Mogg. I guess most people come across your name as the guy who runs the Mandrake Press. Can you tell us a little about the company?
Mogg Morgan: Mandrake of Oxford or simply Mandrake - so as not to confuse us with other companies including the original and of course now defunct Crowley company. Funny engram that people can't say "Mandrake" without saying "press" : )
I choose the name in about 1987 as a kind of homage to old Crow - I wanted to continue the spirit but not get involved in a load of mouldy oldies - so I prefer new writers who develop the tradition. It started with an occult fanzine called Nuit Isis - a catholic and independent Thelemic magazine - and the first issue got me expelled from the OTO (Typhonian).
DE: Can you say why?
Mogg Morgan: I published a flow chart of OTO/groups structure that had been submitted for discussion by OTO researcher Peter Koenig (I guess you know of him - we published some of his early stuff) - Kenneth Grant thought that it undermined his position as outer head of the order although he has since climbed down on that - he wasn't very responsive to the idea of open debate / discussion of things - I was asked to print a 'true history of the Typhonian OTO; with all that Atlantis stuff - I put some of it in but not enough so I was 'tried' before an international tribunal [in my absence] and expelled. I had also wound Kenneth Grant up by my involvement in 'anti-Thelemic organisations' such as CND. By the way, I get on ok with Kenneth Grant now - some say he is nicer when you're not in the order - whose members he sees as adjuncts to his true will - or so I was once told. Maybe he has a point??
Mandrake also did a kitchen table production of a local guidebook called 'strange oxford' - earth mysteries- something I've always liked and use in my magick - see for example 'the erotic landscape' in one of our first books Katon Shual's sexual magick.
Many people liked that chapter the best of all. Mandrake grew from there - felt that it was impossible to get existing publishing houses to do the sort of stuff I liked - Element (note from Dave- a now defunct 'new age' and quite fluffy publishing house, once based in Dorset, UK) wouldn't distribute sexual magick or indeed anything with sexual or magick in title - but they grew so big and went bust now, so guess their karma caught up with them in the end ; )
The big breakthrough for us came after meeting Jan Fries along with Nema at a Maatian ceremony on top of Silbury hill in around 1986- Lionel Snell was there too. Gavin at Fulgur press had already recommended Jan's booklet on sigils that was circulating privately. I talked with him and said it need a bit more to make it enough for a book, and suggested adding some Austin spare but he said that was too unoriginal [ - not AOS being unoriginal, but the idea of reprinting AOS pictures just to bumpff out a book] and so he wrote the book as you see it now - It really struck a chord and still does.
DE: Yeah, excellent no-nonsense practical book- and of course you've printed our very own Ramsey Dukes (what I did in my holidays available via Amazon -or Mandrake-). Mandrake titles are not likely to hit the all-time best-sellers lists, due to the subject matter, but what kind of figures do you expect to sell for, let's say, a Crowley-related reprint; or a new magick title?
Mogg Morgan: Well I always hope to hit the bestsellers one day - publishing is a bit like gambling - there are problems with the institutionalised corruption of the publishing world - need to include a brown paper envelope with the book - but things are improving - Snoo Wilson's I Crowley has sold about 2000 copies and should sell more- there's a lot of prejudice and ignorance about it - the Caliphate OTO hate it and it made Kenneth Anger very angry and he started his usual trick of sending nasties thru the post - indeed Ben Fernee (occult bookseller) was recently selling a load of letters sent by Anger to John Symonds - a whole load of curses connected with (the book by Symonds) The Great Beast - which at the time the OTO hated, thinking it had set them back 1000 years - they were wrong about that - I think its still quite a good book - published 1951 - but Anger got angry and posted a curse to Symonds almost every week - You can imagine we got a little of the same treatment - just a little - he returned the book all marked up : ) he's put quite a lot of himself into it.
DE: That annotated book itself is probably quite a valuable artefact now : ) hang onto it!
Mogg Morgan: Apparently it wasn't serious enough for him, ha! - now his films are never frivolous are they? - Guess he's lost his sense of humour over the years…
Committed Thelemites can sometimes be insecure about fictional takes on
Crowley or other heroes. I Crowley seemed destined to be one of those books that some people take the wrong way. But personally I think it's healthy to be able to laugh together about some of the ridiculous sides of our history. I was genuinely surprised by how angry Kenneth Anger was about the book, and indeed how the OTO tried to blank it. I'd always thought that Kenneth Anger's films, shared quite a lot of common ground with Snoo Wilson's literary trajectory. He is after all a bit of a one off. Anger's films are also quite
idiosyncratic, and some (especially the early ones like Rabbit's Moon) come from the same Comedia del Arte tradition - so I thought he might have understood how it works.
(note from Dave- there is a lengthy Kenneth Anger film and book review underway for the site; watch this space)
Mogg Morgan: Back to the original question: Jan Fries' Helrunar has sold about 7000 copies and a reprint is on the way !
DE: and there must be titles you are delighted and surprised with how well they do?
Mogg Morgan: well, quite pleased about all of them really - none have failed but some have had problems - synchronicities - like when the magical dilemma of Victor Neuberg came out.
A business rival helped a dodgy printer remainder 2000 copies, which killed sales a bit but it worked out all right in the end.
DE: And you must get lots of manuscripts sent in?
Mogg Morgan: yeah quite a lot more than I can deal with at the moment - I welcome query letters or submissions of a first chapter, and I do my best to read stuff but if it don't work in the first paragraph then I don't read on - it has to grab you - it's pointless having a good bit in chapter 23 : )
DE: One of the risks in interviewing a publisher is that they then get sent a deluge of awful attempts at books. For anyone who wants to submit a serious book idea to Mandrake please follow these instructions, send sae's if using snail mail, and be patient!
Mogg Morgan: Email is ok with a initial letter but we delete any unsolicited attachments - if you can't say it in a one page letter you need to hone your writing skills - after that we request Manuscripts if it sounds like our thing - many writers could do with working more on their craft - maybe going to a creative writing class or using a reading agency to doctor their work, and I recommend two books - The Writer's Journey: 'Mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters' and James Fenton's 'Introduction to English poetry'
DE: And you organise(d) the Oxford Golden Dawn society, including running some large Thelemic conferences?
Mogg Morgan: Yeah the mighty OGDOS (www.mandrake.uk.net/ogdos.htm) is still working although we can't do so many events like the Thelemic symposium - it's a money thing really - we need a sponsor as at the moment- I just can't take the financial risk - but I'm hopeful things will change soon - although the new generation of magicians are showing signs of taking up the torch and sometimes I think time is better spent getting books out, including writing up my own experiments. In the end folk want the benefits of contact with a sodality of magicians - a working group, so I am currently trying thru the Black Lodge training group to do more of that - which can be found at email@example.com
Also I hope to expand the tankhem training course via e-learning for those who can't get to Oxford: www.mandrake.uk.net/ogdos.htm and follow link to correspondence course
DE: And as well as publishing, you write too?
Mogg Morgan: I spend a lot of time presenting other artists/ magician's ideas and its nice to have a few years of writing up my own. Indeed, I probably started publishing as a way of getting my own ideas around - had problems finding publishers for my stuff so made my own publishing entity - my input is really only a small percentage of a viable business - I have done about four books so far - the sexual magick book mentioned earlier, Medicine of the Gods and recently the 'English Mahatma' kind of an attempt to explore some of the tankhem mythos via fiction - and have a sequel 'Pan's Road' but will keep that until Mahatma has (or hasn't entered the geist) - I've made a resolution not to start too many projects and leave them half finished (its a Piscean thing) so I'm making myself compile the tankhem book whilst I wait for people to read the English Mahatma - also want to prepare 'The Good Satanist' for later in the year - assuming I'm still around and haven't been ploughed for The Cannibal Within l which Mike Howard says is the product of a very sick mind - it's pressed a button there -
This is not yet goodbye, for convenience we've split this interview into 2 parts: Mogg will be back shortly to talk about his other work.
Links to Mandrake site here www.mandrake.uk.net
The Oxford Golden Dawn society can be found here www.mandrake.uk.net/ogdos.htm