An Open Letter to Dan O’Brien

Dear Mr. O’Brien,

I have recently been informed about your DMCA takedown notice against the Prospero’s Price Kickstarter on the grounds that it infringes your right to market a book bringing together “The Tempest” and H. P. Lovecraft.  It is time to alert you to a serious breach of intellectual property.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a graphic novel series by the acclaimed author Alan Moore.  I could mention the number of Google hits, the coverage in prominent magazines, the reviews on Goodreads, and the movie adaptation in 2003 that featured Tom Sawyer so that U. S. audiences might be convinced to watch it (unsuccessfully), but really, you have a computer.

Beginning in Volume 2 (published 2002-3), Alan Moore incorporated a number of characters from “The Tempest” and Lovecraft into his series, and he continues to do so.   Out of all the thousands of characters, stories, and plays available from your sources, it can be no coincidence that you have picked characters from Mr. Moore’s work such as Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Cthulhu, and the Deep Ones.   You must agree that the latter is especially damning, given the lack of fiction written about Cthulhu or the Deep Ones.

Having brought this to your attention, I have no doubt that you will remove your book from circulation in accord with international copyright law.

Sincerely,

Daniel Harms

P. S.  I do have to thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I am preparing for publication a book from 1580 featuring Oberion, King of the Fairies.  Upon researching your case, it has come to my attention that this “Shakespeare” character later published a play that incorporates one Oberon as King of the Fairies.  Rest assured that I will not rest until this scoundrel is forced to remove all of his infringing work from the Internet.

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars

A few weeks ago, I spent an oft-delayed yet pleasant afternoon and evening with Patrick Donmoyer.  Patrick is the site manager of Kutztown University’s Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, not to mention the translator of The Friend in Need, another charm book by Hohman which I’ve reviewed previously.  We spent most of our time viewing multiple impressive collections of magical books, talismans, and other magical items.  Before I left, I picked up the second book in the Center’s new series – Donmoyer’s own Hex Signs.

From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes.  The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present.  Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.

So, were hex signs intended to protect the barn magically, or were they decorations?  Donmoyer’s answer is that these have no apotropaic sorcerous qualities, as far as it relates to history.  The belief seems to come down to one researcher’s interview with a single unspecified Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, which no one since has been able to duplicate, and the term “hex signs” seems to have been a creation for outsiders.  Donmoyer goes on to document the progression of these symbols from stone keystones found in the sides of early barns, along with their parallels to barn decoration in the Old World, and the many variations of patterns throughout the region.

At the same time, however, hex signs are not merely decorative elements.  Within their bright colors and eye-catching whorls and points are elements of celestial and numerological significance.  Similar motifs turn up on decorations elsewhere, indicating that these symbols are expressions of important cosmological and spiritual practices among the Pennsylvania German.
Those interested in the occult are also in luck.  Even if magic cannot be found in the hex signs on the barn, it may yet lurk inside.  Within are walls covered with graffiti, including magical phrases on the walls, talismans tucked within the rafters, and drawings of the Elbedritsch, a mythical horned bird.  We are treated not only to descriptions, but pictures of these discoveries.

Finally, the book discusses those artists who have brought the hex sign into the present and seek to preserve these creations that tell so much about Pennsylvania history.  This is where magic re-enters, as the popular discourse about signs has had its effect on the attitudes and practices of those who design them today.

All of this is richly illustrated with copious photographs that highlight the author’s arguments.  In fact, my only criticism is that the book might be better served in a large coffee table format, which would allow us to view the signs on a larger scale.

Hex Signs is available through the Heritage Center, and is certainly worth it for those interested in folk art, folklore, or folk magic.

 

Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 10:09 am  Comments (3)  

Double Kickstarters

Somehow I’ve managed to get myself entangled in not one but two Kickstarters at once.  Both have already reached the initial funding goal, so if you jump on board, you’ll be getting something neat and adding to everyone else’s neat stuff.

First, the Call of Cthulhu book Tales from the Crescent City features my adventure “Needles,” in which your investigators take on a New Orleans legend and uncover the terrifying truth behind them.  At the Algiers level, you’ll get that scenario, plus another five by some great authors, including a rewritten version of Kevin Ross’ classic “Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?” and his all-new sequel, in both print and PDF.  Tales also has  a New Orleans neighborhood guide written by locals, a two-page Roaring Twenties map of the city,  and a writeup of HPL’s mystic Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, in both print and PDF.  The next stretch goal is the book’s seventh scenario.

On top of that, you’ll get a Mythos scenario in PDF format, another four scenarios based upon New Orleans folklore (and more with more stretch goals) in PDF, and a set of Mardi Gras beads.  I told Oscar Rios of Golden Goblin Press to charge you more than $35 for all this, but he didn’t listen.

Second is the fiction anthology Delta Green:  Tales from Failed Anatomies, a collection of stories of paranormal investigation and creeping horror by Dennis Detwiller.   More stories are being written as stretch goals by Kenneth Hite, Adam Scott Glancy, Cody Goodfellow, and Greg Stolze.  When the campaign reaches $10,000 (it’s at $8700 right now), I’ll write a Delta Green short story called “Dark,” set during the NYC blackout of 1977.   Maybe I’ll weave in something else that was going on in the Big Apple at that time.

For $15, you’ll get the e-book, plus all of the stretch goal stories, plus a coupon to buy a paperback of Detwiller’s book for about $10 or hardback for $25, plus a coupon to buy my story and the others in a book for another $10 if we reach enough goals to fill it.  (They’re giving out the coupons for purchase later in order to speed up delivery.)  For another $15, you can be an alpha tester for the new Delta Green RPG as well.

In either case, you’re getting a lot of quality material for not too much from companies with good track records.  Donate a little so you can read something great.

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

A Happy 2014 Update

It’s really cold up here, so some shovelling of snow is in order.  Apparently someone liberated my snow shovel in the past few days, so I went out to get one of those orange colossal ones that can cut through a mountain.

  • The notes for the Book of Oberon have returned, so the team is working our way through them.   For my part, I’m tackling the introduction, which was written in a much more technical style near the beginning of the project and now needs to be more friendly as well as rigorous.  (I don’t think we often have to choose between the two, although how is sometimes difficult to determine.)
  • The Boston book goes along very slowly.  I’ve got some more sources to consult, once I brave the cold once more.
  • I’ve been working with Steven Kaye on two more articles on the worship of various Mythos entities.  Some of you may remember the one on “The Worship of Tsathoggua through the Ages” in Worlds of Cthulhu.  These will be hitting some more prominent gods/aliens/monsters/folks.
  • Delta Green game:  Agents were sent to Alaska as Secret Service, and ended up hunting (and being hunted by) hairy hominids out in the middle of the wilderness.   Now one of them has a hominid head in his freezer, and another has a tracking device once implanted into these creatures.  I’m still working on the next game.
  • Yig is fine.  Some people want me to blog more about Yig, but really, she’s a snake.  She crawls around her cage and sticks her head out of her caves to look for food, which she is rather unsuccessful at obtaining.  I know it’s a matter of heat, but sometimes I look at this snake dropping her food into the water dish (which takes some effort, given that it has two-inch sides) and wonder how this species survived for millions of years.

I hope wherever you are is warmer than here.

Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 9:53 pm  Comments (2)  

Review; The Aleister Crowley Desk Reference

Along with the works of Frederick Hockley, Teitan Press has also released a nice selection of works aimed at the collector of Crowley.  J. Edward Cornelius’ The Aleister Crowley Desk Reference is a new addition to the line, which should be added to the library of anyone interested in Crowley, whether a neophyte or an expert.

The Reference, tripling the size of the original in The Red Flame, is a comprehensive guide to the works of Aleister Crowley by title.  Cornelius is exhaustively comprehensive in his listings, so the book contains essays, fiction, diaries, poetry, book reviews, and records of magical* workings and operations.  Those that are published have at least a partial list of appearances, and those that are unpublished (such as Crowley’s plans for a Tunisian golf course) provide information on where they are held.  Given the sometimes questionable nature of authorial attribution, Cornelius also includes works that are attributed to Crowley or that might be listed under his pseudonym, if there is any possibility that he could have been the author.  Many of them also have notes clarifying their nature, dating, or questions of authorship, among other topics.  I sought out several different works that I recalled of Crowley’s, and I was not disappointed.

I think that some readers will be disappointed that the book does not include subject listings, or genres, or listings of people mentioned as ways of finding books.  For example, finding a book review of Arthur Machen’s N requires searching under the title.  Given that any additional organizing would be such a colossal undertaking, however, I feel that what appears here is much more than adequate.

One of the quirks of Crowley’s writing is that the same piece might appear under different titles (e.g. magical* workings listed under both titles and Liber numbers) and being published in different editions.  Overall, this is not for casual readers of Crowley, who might pick up one or two books and be done.  For those who wish to explore his magical* philosophy, whether as authors, researchers, or practitioners, I’d say this book is an essential tool that should allow one to find the works of the magician much more easily.

* I get it, but I’m enough of a curmudgeon to avoid the “k” here.

Published in: on December 29, 2013 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Lecouteux’s The Book of Grimoires

What the field of grimoires lacks – and may lack for some time – are comprehensive studies of the large number of operations that exist in manuscripts across the world, to identify how they influence each other, and are influenced by the broader culture.  To do so, however, the first stage must be to make as much of this material available as possible, in as scholarly a form as possible, so that a broader audience can examine them and begin to draw the connections.  Within this project, Claude Lecouteux’s The Book of Grimoires:  The Secret Grammar of Magic, is a welcome addition to the popular side of the enterprise.  The book, which has appeared in three editions in France, is now translated into English for the first time.

This is not to say I am completely fond of Lecouteux’s approach to the topic in the introduction to the book.  Sometimes I question his sources – for example, is it useful to include Paracelsus’ listing of the various types of magic, or would his own be more suitable?  When Montaigne writes of the ingredients used by sorcerers, is he being facetious or serious?  We also have some minor items of confusion – a failure to distinguish between the different books attributed to Raziel, or to accept that all printed grimoires listed as being from the 16th century truly are.  It is telling that the most recent edition of this book in French is from 2008, as it appears that the author has missed almost a decade of studies on these topics that might have informed this material more fully.  He does, however, include much interesting information, which one can (in most cases) follow via the footnotes back to the sources, which is greatly appreciated.

The true strength of the book is in the chapters that follow.  After a short preface to each, Lecouteux might provide us with translations of charms for love, healing, general magic operations, rings, the properties of stones, etc.  As this list shows, some chapters cover spells for a particular outcome, and others a specific element of an operation.  Near the end, we get two chapters that include operations from particular book, and another dedicated to “extracts from various grimoires,” a confusing title which I take to mean “written and printed grimoires of a later date.”  Also, the amount of material in each chapter can vary considerably.  The reason for such variation in the chapters is never established.

And yet, the book is highly impressive nonetheless.  Each of those chapters includes examples of the rites in question culled from manuscripts in nearly twenty different libraries, many of which are unknown to English-speaking readers.  The general time period is approximately the fifteenth century, taking a few centuries on either side.  Some of them will be familiar, such as those deriving from the Picatrix, but there are also many which I cannot recall having seen anywhere else,  I have some skepticism as to whether each one of these can be found in approximately fifty sources, as he states, but nonetheless it is an impressive collection.  These include a good number of reproductions of talismans, magic circles, seals of spirits, and magical characters and objects for various purposes.  We are also provided with references leading back to the manuscripts for each one.

Much as I dislike doing so, my reflection on the book continues to raise parallels with Waite’s The Book of Ceremonial Magic, which is known under many different titles.  Both were the work of men of strong opinions and not always accurate erudition who did not practice the material in question and whose editorial selection processes are sometimes murky.  Both works have value to one new to the field and with limited budget, although those readers should approach those books with some reservation.  The parallels are not perfect, however; Lecouteux’s commentary and notes are of higher quality than those of Waite, and his emphasis on manuscript works instead of printed ones means that it provides new material for advanced students and researchers.

 

Published in: on December 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm  Comments (11)  

Book of Oberon to be Published

The Book of Oberon will be published by Llewellyn.   They’re looking at a time slot in 2015, although the exact time in that year has yet to be determined.

The text is done, and the contracts are signed, so things are moving forward.

I’ll say more when I can.  I’ve learned in the past that it’s best to let publishers determine the announcements, lest I get ahead of them and disrupt matters.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 12:07 am  Comments (1)  

Review: Dr. Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels

We’ve been over the Doctor Rudd ground in this blog so many times it feels as if we practically should be sending the guy Christmas cards.  (You can see some of the discussion here and here, as well as followups here and here, along with material in Egil Asprem’s Arguing with Angels on the same topic.)  Briefly put, the theory is that Thomas Rudd, an engineer who published John Dee’s Mathematical Preface to Euclid, was a ceremonial magician whose manuscripts were later copied by Peter Smart and attributed to “Dr. Rudd”.  The objection has been raised that there’s little evidence that Thomas and Doctor Rudd are the same, and that Peter Smart used that name in his manuscripts to disguise the fact he was copying material from printed sources.

A new perspective can be found in Teitan Press’ latest printing of a manuscript from the nineteenth-century accountant and crystal magic practitioner Frederick Hockley, Dr. Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels.  The text itself is of interest to the history of nineteenth century occultism, as it most likely constitutes another work transcribed at the shop of John Denley.  The book consists of three major texts:  an edition of the Nine Hierarchies of Angels attributed to Rudd, the Enochian Keys in English, and a procedure ultimately derived from Sloane 307 to call Enochian spirits to find treasure and perform other tasks, including the table of the elements, available in both transcription and facsimile.  Each of these is available though previously-published sources that publish earlier material that is more extensive in content, such as Adam MacLean’s A Treatise on Angel Magic and some of the Golden Hoard works.

What really made the book for me, however, was Alan Thorogood’s comprehensive introduction.  Alan makes three major points here.  First, the Enochian works of John Dee, whether in manuscript form or taken from Casaubon’s True and Faithfull Relation, were more influential than had previously been thought, with traces found even in the published versions of the Lemegeton and the 1665 edition of Discoverie of Witchcraft. Second, he makes the argument that the Janua magica reserata, a set of magical operations dedicated to summoning representatives of the angelic hierarchy, were derived from Enochian material.

Third, he gives further evidence why Peter Smart is not to be trusted in attributing particular works to Rudd – while, at the same time, he puts forth an argument for a new candidate.  Sloane Manuscripts 3624 to 3628 describe a series of late seventeenth-century operations performed by a trio of men – including one “J. Rudd” – to call up spirits using both the hierarchy of angels and Dee’s operations.  If this is the case, it might give us a better candidate that Smart appropriated to justify his own dishonesty.

If you’re picking this up for the text, it’s best to do so as a Hockley collector, someone interested in what was available in the field of ceremonial magic for the nineteenth century, or a completist in the field of grimoire literature.  The introduction, however, should be required reading for anyone studying the history of the grimoire tradition for any reason.

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Scarlet Imprint – The Testament of Cyprian the Mage

Scarlet Imprint is preparing to open pre-orders for Jake Stratton-Kent’s The Testament of Cyprian the Mage.  The two-volume work constitutes the third entry in the Encyclopedia Goetica series, providing a practitioner’s insight into the grimoire tradition.   A quick description follows:

The book tackles two of the critical strands of the Grimoire tradition, the Iberian Cyprian books and the Testament of Solomon, the foundation text of the Solomonic grimoire tradition. Stratton-Kent elucidates their context, meaning and critically how they can be integrated into a modern magical approach. Crucial to this is the identity of the Four Kings and the role of the Decans.

My reading of this is that the author will be seeking to integrate more Middle Eastern material, a concern I raised in my review of Geosophia a while ago.  (Further discussion can be found here.)   It’s not clear on whether there will be a translation on one of the Cyprian books included, so I’ll see what else I can find.

If it does intrigue you, however, I’d recommend going to the Scarlet Imprint website and signing up for their mailing list.

Published in: on November 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm  Comments (2)  

New Abramelin Release, and a Word to Publishers

Troy Books of London is continuing with their plan to publish twelve grimoires.  Their latest offering is The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, another attractive hardcover that includes one of the classic (in terms of modern ceremonial magic, anyway) texts on ceremonial magic.

I don’t see myself picking this one up, and that brings me to an announcement of sorts to publishers:  it’s important that a grimoire not only look attractive, but also include some new content.   Publication of new texts is always appreciated, but even a reflective essay on some aspect of the book for practitioners could bring in customers who otherwise would just pick up the Dover edition for eleven bucks.  It’s something to consider.

Published in: on November 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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