Quick Stay-at-Home Update, Fishing Lore, and the Rings of Messalah

Still home and healthy.

I’m still working on Douce 116, The Book of Four Wizards. I’ve come to the section of the book that includes recipes for creating different sorts of fish bait, capturing birds, and the like. For those who are curious, this seems to be the section that is biggest on the incorporation of cannabis, belladonna, and other rites. I’d love to find the origin for this section, but I’m not optimistic; I can find some similar recipes, but nothing that serves as a template, or where I can find multiple examples in the same order. That might help me to narrow down the time frame of the original author, though, so I’ll give it a shot and see where it goes.

Mihai Vartejaru is working on a comparison of different manuscripts that contain a magical treatise called the Rings of Messalah, detailing rings to be made under the power of each planet. You can see this series on his blog.

Stay safe, everyone.

Published in: on April 4, 2020 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Update – COVID-19, Cypriana, Hadean, More Hadean, Ouroboros Special Offers

At this point, I am sequestered away from the world, an opportunity I sincerely hope all of you have been given. The future is unknown, but for now I am healthy, safe, and well-provisioned. May all of you be well, in all aspects of your life, in these uncertain times.

As a librarian, I should remind everyone to try to seek out reputable information in these times, and to refrain from sending on what is inaccurate.

Also, if you have ever found yourself saying, “I wish I had time to read these books / learn a language / write,” and you are secure enough to proceed with those plans, this might be the time. It’s hard to do those things when surrounded by stress, but it can also serve for a temporary escape.

I wish all of you the best, and I hope I will meet and speak with each one of you face to face someday when this is over.

Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 11:26 am  Comments (2)  

Review: The Key of King Solomon, Clavicula Salomonis, for George Graham

We might as well face it – my reviews queue is seriously backed up. In fact, it’s so backed up that the book I’m reviewing today went out of print before I could talk about it.  I’m just going to start working my way down the stack to see where that takes me.

Today, it brings me to this edition of the Key of Solomon, which is a late-period manuscript created by Frederick Hockley for the infamous balloonist George Graham, the subject of my latest book, and the role I played in its production for Aeon Sophia that they might not even know about.

The Key of King Solomon with Transcript

I’ve been keeping an eye out for interesting manuscripts, and several years ago I stopped by the Cleveland Public Library to see this odd Clavis that was listed in WorldCat. It was an interesting document, and I started talking with Ben Fernee about publishing an edition with Caduceus. Ben paid for the digitization of the book and I started working on it, for whenever Bellhouse was done. This took long enough that the library took the images and made them available online  under a public domain license. Then Aeon Sophia took the images – which were freely available online – and published them as a book, which pretty much invalidated our own efforts. That’s why you have this curious little short book on George and Margaret Graham.

I have to admit I was quite miffed at the time – and please bear that in mind when you read this – and I won’t speak for how Ben felt about paying out of his funds to finance what essentially became another publisher’s project. Yet there was no way to for Aeon Sophia to know about any of this, as far as I can tell, and publishing a book in which others are interested is by no means an unforgivable sin.

Oh, but there are indeed unforgivable sins. One of the chief ones is sending any book thicker than a pamphlet across the Atlantic in an unpadded cardboard envelope. I’ve been keeping this particular packaging for months, just so I could put up a picture here:

Dan's Aeon Sophia Packaging

To be clear, the books did arrive fine, and I think most people on the used and rare market are sensitive enough to customers not to even attempt this. I would keep it in mind for future Aeon Sophia orders, though.

As for the books themselves, they consist of a large black hardback facsimile of the book, along with a smaller paperback volume that holds a transcript of the book. The binding looks all right to my untried eye, though I should notice it has no lettering on the spine, which is not encouraging and makes it more difficult to find on one’s shelf.

Graham’s Key is quite the intriguing book. The book is quite different from the Sibley Clavis with which Hockley is usually associated (I’ve reviewed the publication of various editions by Caduceus, Golden Hoard, and Ibis). Instead it representing an Italian and French line of tradition usually attributed to one “Armadel,” not to be confused with the magical book of the same name. Yet this book deviates even more even from this template.

First, we have the spirit list, which, as Joe Peterson observes, is closest to that in the Venetian Secrets of Solomon.  The book also features a wide collection of unusual talismans for various purposes, using the parchment and blood of all manner of creatures – including elephants, camels, tigers, and lions. It wraps up with a curious rite to summon up Lucifer near a body of water.

Yet the thrust of the book – and the topic of many insertions into Lansdowne 1202, to which I compared it – is the proper training and consecration of a magician’s disciples. The procedures ranging from admonitions against improper behavior, such as consorting with women (I do wonder how Margaret Graham felt about that), to consecrating talismans meant to protect the disciples during rites. We even see a talisman meant to pass on a magician’s power to a chosen student at the time of his death, provided they have some ape blood on hand to write it.

Was George attempting to start his own magical order? If so, how far did he get? Perhaps future researchers will find the answers.

The transcript in the accompanying booklet is… seriously lacking. On the first page alone, I found four errors that were easily correctable, and the others I’ve glanced at haven’t been more encouraging. Our transcriber appears to have copied what they saw on the first reading, but I see no signs that they read the transcript for context to catch any errors. Just because a document passes spellcheck doesn’t mean it makes sense. On the upside, the handwriting is not too bad, so if you’re familiar with cursive it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the readings out of the facsimile.

As I said above, the book is currently unavailable in print form, but you can find the Cleveland Public Library’s images here. It’s an intriguing late-period Key with unique aspects worth checking out.

Published in: on March 9, 2020 at 9:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Just Released: An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke

The latest release from Scarlet Imprint is An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke, a work edited by blog-friends Phil Legard and Al Cummins, featuring an introduction by me. A quick intro from the website:

The magical experiments conducted by Elizabethan explorer, soldier and courtier Humphrey Gilbert, along with his scryer John Davis, during the spring of 1567 are notable for their forceful methods and stripped down Protestant ritual. The spirits are called into a ‘crystal stone’ by way of a large number of conjurations, charges, constraints, curses and bonds. The work includes the practical conjuration of Bleth, Aosal, Assassel (Azazel) and the four demon kings of the winds, namely Oriens, Amaimon, Paimon and Aegyn. It is evidently based on an older text or texts, adapted to the Protestant outlook of the period, and has also been supplemented with revelations and guidance received first-hand by Gilbert and Davis over the course of its composition. As such, the texts are a rare example of the poiesis, or coming-together, of a ritual magic book. The texts attest to the continuity of medieval ritual magic into the early modern period.

Visions is a record of visions in the crystal, detailing events which took place before, during and after the composition of the Excellent Booke. In the course of this work, the master – Humphrey Gilbert – and scryer – John Davis – converse with a wide-range of spirits as well as religious and occult personalities, including Assasel, Solomon, Roger Bacon, Cornelius Agrippa and four angelic evangelists. The pair experience a series of remarkable sights concealed behind the seven-keyholed door of the house of Solomon. On occasion the visions bled into the waking world in encounters with great demonic dogs and the physical manifestation of the prophet Job.

The Excellent Booke and Visions are, as Legard writes in his Preface, ‘unique documents of sixteenth century magical practice: ones that deserve to be widely read and studied by scholars and practitioners alike since they preserve a detailed account of both the making and the use of a grimoire.’ A book of particular note to those interested in Azazel, the fallen angel and necromantic traditions, students of the grimoires and the practical workings of dirty medieval magic.

There’s more – but I’ll let you go to the website and order it. I was sent a hardcover as my contributor’s copy, and it’s a large, handsome book.

Published in: on February 29, 2020 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Ars Notoria: The Grimoire of Rapid Learning by Magic

Students haven’t changed much, at least in some respects. Those in western medieval Europe crowded into the universities of their day, went to lectures, stomped about drinking establishments, and approaching their studies with varying degrees of ability and dedication. As is the case today, some seek shortcuts to attaining knowledge – yet one route was available to the students of the time that has since been lost. A manual of mystical illustrations, or notae, and prayers provided a means for mastery of any topic in the curriculum, through study and devotion. So it was that the Ars Notoria became the most popular ritual magic work of the era. (For more on the topic, check here, and if you want to know the curious spiritual journey of one of its practitioners, see these books.)

As the medieval curriculum lost its significance, so did the Ars Notoria.  Robert Turner published his own English edition in 1657, but omitting the notae necessary for the Ars Notoria Coverpractice of the magic. More recent releases have included the critical edition from Julien Véronèse, although this reproduces only a few notae, and mostly in black and white. We’ve also seen the annotated copy of Hockley’s edition published by Teitan five years ago. Now we have a truly impressive work, with a few flaws – Skinner and Clark’s edition of the Ars Notoria: The Grimoire of Rapid Learning by Magic. (It should be noted that this is Volume 1 of 2.)

Let’s unpack what’s inside the book. We have a lengthy introduction detailing the history of the Ars Notoria, from its potential origins to the cultural context to the many editions that have appeared since. Next come biographies of many figures, including the putative authors, copyists, publishers, and scribes of the work (although John of Morigny is not mentioned in this section). We have an amazing amount of detail on the major manuscripts and their backgrounds, including detailed tables on the manuscripts, as well as the notae and the prayers. There’s also a brief section laying out the proper procedures for using the notae as a practical experiment.

What is most impressive about the book, however, are the illustrations. Not only do we have a full-color reproduction of one particular manuscript, Yale Beinecke Mellon 1, but also the same for the notae taken from four different manuscripts, that can be employed for the purposes of pursuing all manner of learning for various topics, along with some other minor magical operations.

There is a great deal to like about this book, yet I do have concerns on two points. First, there are times when Skinner seems to narrow down a range of possible interpretations to one. For example, when we discuss the Ars Notoria‘s putative author, Euclid. We have a few choices of whom this could be: the famous mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, the Socratic philosopher Euclid of Megara, and Euclid of Thebes, the father of the supposed author of the magical work Sworn Book of Honorius, according to that book’s introduction

Now, “Euclid of Thebes” doesn’t appear as an author in any of the Ars Notoria manuscripts that Skinner and Clark have compiled. Where Euclid of Thebes does appear is in the introduction to the Sworn Book, which is problematic for two reasons. First, the Sworn Book appears later than the Ars Notoria, and in fact derives many of its prayers from that work. Second, the introduction to the Sworn Book contains some fairly unusual statements, such as the pope’s corruption by demonic forces, and how 811 magicians met in Thebes to encourage Honorius, with the aid of the angel Hocroel, to write that text. In other words, this is a text with a particular purpose and agenda, which makes a straightforward reading as a piece of history problematic.

Skinner himself recognizes this and states he thinks it unlikely that a “Euclid of Thebes” actually wrote the book – yet both the footnotes and the index both gloss any in-text reference to the Ars Notoria‘s “Euclid” as “Euclid of Thebes,” which confuses the matter considerably.

Another problematic item, from my perspective, is Skinner’s link between two particular notae and two inverted Medusa heads found at the bottom of a cistern in Constantinople. I’ll put up the images of one of each here:

According to the introduction:

These columns in the cistern of Constantinople are so unique that it is very likely that the person using this image to design two of the notae was a native of Constantinople, and familiar with this particular cistern.

Here are somequestion:

  1. Was this sculpture at the bottom of a municipal cistern, which probably was filled with water in this era? If so, how familiar would the authors of the Ars Notoria have been with it?
  2. If the authors were indeed familiar with the sculpture, what accounts for the ears, fur, and other animalistic features not present on it?  Could another explanation be that the depiction on the right might have a link to art showing the medieval concept of the Hellmouth, for instance?

These assertions are a tiny fraction of a book that has much to recommend it, yet they are important. A huge barrier to our understanding of the grimoires – and to their acceptance in the broader culture – has always been their blatantly false and ridiculous attributions of authors, dates, places, etc., to their contents. When we read, edit, and publish these books, I think we have an obligation to engage with these questions and explain why we take a position, rather than making assertions that run the risk of replacing one myth with another.

My other concern about the text is the transcription and translation to use. I recently reviewed the Opuscula Cypriani, and its archival documents followed what I feel is the standard in dealing with such texts: we get a facsimile, followed with a transcription thereof, and a translation of that. What this Ars Notoria presents, however, is the Latin text from Agrippa’s Opera omnia (c. 1620) and Turner’s English translation of 1657, both of which are late texts differing in order and content from the medieval texts closer to the source. There’s probably a story to account for how exactly the authors made this unusual decision, but it’s not provided in this work.

A final minor note: the biographical sections could use more footnotes. For instance, I’d love to know if the section on Sir Hans Sloane was informed by Delbourgo’s biography Collecting the World.

Is this Ars Notoria worth picking up? I can see two points against it. The first is the high price point, which is to be expected for a large book with color illustrations from a small press. The second is its specialized nature; a four-month series of devotions undertaken to master the medieval university curriculum may not interest many readers today. Yet for those who find that appealing will appreciate this work, as it is arguably the first accessible and complete published edition of this important medieval text .

Published in: on February 22, 2020 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Graham Ballooning e-Book, Cyprian in the Movies, Troy Books at Llewellyn, Distaff Gospels, Review Backlog, and Other Matters

Some of you requested an e-book copy of my book on the Grahams, ballooning, magic, alchemy, and other topics. It should be live above, if you’re interested. This is an experiment, so if you have any concerns about format or how the link works, please let me know.

Those of you Cyprian aficionados might want to check out the horror film El Bosque Negro, or Black Forest. The travails of an impoverished young woman as she attempts to use a Book of Cyprian to escape her situation is handled with all the sensitivity that movies usually bring to folk magic traditions. I did enjoy it as campy fun, so you might view it in that light.

The independent UK publisher Troy Books is always putting out books of interest to those interested in local myth and folklore, especially for Cornwall, even if they don’t have enough footnotes for my tastes. They’ve just made a deal with Llewellyn to distribute their works in the States. I’d particularly recommend Mark Norman’s Black Dog Folklore and Gemma Gary’s Silent as the Trees, but you should check out their line if you’re interested in British folklore and magic.

I keep meaning to mention The Distaff Gospels, a fifteenth-century French satire on the beliefs of women. Despite the author’s bias, it does have little nuggets of information on mandrakes, witches, and incubi that might be of interest to some of you.

I’ve still got quite the backlog of grimoires to review, which is something of a new situation for me. I think the Ars Notoria will be next, but I’ll have to find a place to fit it into my schedule. One of you put me on to The Complete Illustrated Grand Grimoire, or the Red Dragon, but that’s going to be somewhere in the back.

I received my copy of the Opuscula Cypriani, and it is huge. You can check out my review on what’s inside here.

I’m working on a section of Douce 116 in which someone apparently puts an angel named after Judas Iscariot into a box.

That’s about all for now.

Published in: on February 8, 2020 at 2:10 pm  Comments (2)  

Review: The Black Pullet (Black Letter Press Edition)

During Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, a French soldier sent to survey the pyramids fell victim to an ambush. An old man emerged from a secret door to rescue him, bringing him inside and initiating him into the secrets of occult philosophy. By making colorful talismans and magical rings, all manner of powers could be obtained – and a black chicken could find one buried treasure galore. The old man died after admonishing the soldier that only the most virtuous might obtain this art. The soldier returned to France, and apparently decided to publish the exalted art in cheap chapbooks for a popular audience.

The Red Dragon and Black Pullet from Black Letter PressSo goes La Poule Noir, or The Black Pullet, an early nineteenth-century book capitalizing on the European craze with Egyptian culture to legitimize its magic. We’ve seen various English translations of the book, with this one from Italy’s Black Letter Press being one of the most handsome.

I should state that this press also produced an edition of The Red Dragon, and I’d send you to that review for some important caveats regarding this work and its editor.

The book is a pleasant small work with cloth binding and bookmark. I usually don’t discuss the binding, as I feel that often distracts from the content. In this particular case, though, the design of black text on a dark purple background leads to a book that is more dull in appearance and, along with its size, could easy get lost on a bookshelf. Given the expertise displayed here, I think Black Letter won’t make this mistake again, though.

As for the text itself, it begins with an introduction by the editor Paul Summers Young, which is a nice mix of the scholarly and the entertaining – but I’ll get back to this in a moment.  The translation of the book follows, generally with each talisman and ring pair receiving its own illustration. Young also supplements this with additional material taken from the Black Pullet‘s sister text, Le Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides, or The Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids, that expands and provides helpful instructions for using the talismans within, along with a reading/advertising list at the end of that text, followed by an extract from Le Comte de Gabalis. (Although advertised as such on the website, it does not include Le Chouette Noir, or The Black Screech-Owl.)

Overall, this edition is very much geared toward collectors who want a nicely-bound edition of the classic grimoire in an English translation (which I should add I do not feel qualified to judge). You won’t find any notes, or the French text, or a bibliography.  Young states that he assembled the book out of three different texts and gives general indications of what sort of work he’s done in the introduction, including that some sections have been truncated. On the other hand, he gives no indication of what editions were used to assemble it, which I think should be an expectation for any published grimoire going forward.

Don’t get me wrong on this last point – there is certainly a market for editions of books that are good quality reprints of classic books that are available in many cheaper editions. Yet I think that this book could reach beyond that to appeal to those who want better-quality content, and doing so would take little effort beyond what has already been expended here.


Published in: on January 28, 2020 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Oxford, A Cunning Man’s Book, Appropriated Art, Review Backlog, Magic Circle Thesis, and Other Topics of Interest

I made a quick trip to London and Oxford for the BSECS conference, and I had an enlightening and fun time. You know you’re in Oxford when you’re walking around town in the evening and see window after window open to reveal entire walls those floor-to-ceiling bookshelves – both in libraries and private residences. 

I saw some interesting manuscripts while on the road. One of them was Wellcome 3770, a work by John Parkins, the cunning man said to be Francis Barrett’s pupil. Some of the material within seems to come from Barrett’s scrying procedure published in The Flying Sorcerer, long after his death, so this seems likely. Most of the manuscript is in a personal shorthand, to which Parkins provides the key, and at least some of it is magical, as Parkins apparently didn’t think to come up with shorthand for “Tetragrammaton,” for some reason. It might be an interesting project for someone.

I picked up Shani Oates’ The Real World Art of Cunning Craft from Hell Fire Club Books. It seems to include, both on the cover and as chapter breaks, art from Mihai Vartejaru’s blog post on the Seals of Alcabitius. I can say this with some degree of confidence, as one of the labels for the seals exactly replicates the typos on the same label on Mihai’s blog. Mihai was unaware of this, and I haven’t heard anything from Hell Fire.

Al Cummins called to my attention M. J. de Bejier’s thesis on the elements of magical circles. It does not include the original illustrations, likely due to rights issues. It only covers five manuscripts, so I think of it less as a definitive study and more of a set of hypotheses that should be applied to other works containing magic circles.

Speaking of items I look forward to reading, I’ve accumulated quite the backlog of books to review. I’ll slowly work my way forward, although my present book and associated research takes precedence.

Published in: on January 18, 2020 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Opuscula Cypriani: Variations on the Book of St. Cyprian and Related Literature

Saint Cyprian has become a fascinating figure for magicians from many different opuscula-cypriani-pb-mockupbackgrounds, and a spiritual patron for many of today’s practitioners. Given previous authors’ focus on Solomon as the wizard par excellence, and the linguistic barriers to correlating material on Cyprian from various traditions, our knowledge of the folklore and ritual practice surrounding him has been severely limited. Recent publications have done much to break down these barriers, with Hadean Press’ latest release, Opuscula Cypriani, or “Minor Works of Cyprian” being another welcome addition. The book will soon be available both in hardback and paperback; this review is based on a PDF of the hardback.

In the Opuscula, José Leitão return again to the Portuguese Cyprianic corpus that informed his previous releases, The Book of Saint Cyprian and The Immaterial Book of Cyprian. That one can fill up nearly a thousand pages with barely any overlap with other published material attributed to Cyprian certainly attests to the depth of the tradition. At the same time, however, it illustrates how trying to define any particular trait of “Cyprianic magic” is as perilous and likely as fruitless as trying to label a type of magic as “Solomonic.”

This will be more general impressions rather than an in-depth examination of the work, as 900+ pages is more than I care to read right now. Yet I’d like to talk about the general plan and the highlights.

The works begins with the earliest Cyprianic material Leitão can find from the region: extracts from the processes of the Portuguese Inquisition in which people were found to be using spells attributed to Cyprian. This is followed by one of the most significant works in the book, Universidade de Coimbra MS. 2559, a lengthy eighteenth-century collection of prayers attributed to Cyprian and employed to bring success at treasure hunting. Many of the items in this section include facsimiles of the original documents, along with both Portuguese and English texts for their contents.

In the middle of the book, Leitão gives us a lengthy description of the magic of Cyprian’s history in Portugal (he largely stays clear of the Spanish, Brazilian, and other traditions). He notes that the material from the manuscript editions is largely different from what appears in the later printed literature, and that the Lisbon tradition of the Book of Cyprian has mostly superseded the others presented here, likely due to the effects of successive regimes appropriating or denigrating the folk culture from which it sprang. On the way, we get a quick introduction to Portuguese political history and modern spirituality that I found very welcome.

Many different books attributed to Cyprian, or that seem to be adjacent to it, were published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much of the rest of the book is taken up with translations of such works, ranging in topic from lists of treasures to procedures for divination – physiognomy, cartomancy, and the like. This is the part with which I spent the least time – maybe ritual magic snobbery is showing through on my part – but I think those who wish to know more about folk magic will delight in it.

So, who else would enjoy this work? This is a tough question for me. I think its title as “Minor Works of Cyprian” is a good indicator of whether a potential buyer would like it, though those interested in folk magic of Iberia should also seek it out. Also, those who do not have Leitão’s Book of Cyprian should acquire that first before reading this one. At any rate, I hope to see more such volumes on Cyprian, possibly encompassing works from other countries that might give us more insight into the length and depth of this tradition.

Published in: on January 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Update: Tea Drunk, Grimoires Received, Writing Progress [?], Georgian Occult Book Collection Catalogues, Arthurian and Slavic Gaming, and Holiday Commercialism

I’m hiding out at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore in Ann Arbor, which has a great selection of books and a lovely tea room.

  • I’ve received an electronic copy of Jose Leitao’s Opuscula Cypriani, which will receive a quick semi-review soon. I just reviewed a 650-page book here, so I think making a thorough reading of a 900-page book would undo me. I’ll still report in on it.
  • Also arrived are the Black Letter Press edition of The Black Pullet, and the Golden Hoard edition of the Ars Notoria. I intend to get to both of them soon.
  • I’ve temporarily stopped correcting the text in Douce 116, in order to work on this presentation at the BSECS in January. I might base the whole piece on the title page of the book, which is surprisingly rich in content describing how Thomas Harrington, a late 18th century author, tried to legitimize a late 17th-century magical miscellany.
  • As for Harrington, I’ve paid for Harvard to digitize the catalog of the 1806 posthumous sale of his library of works on music, magic, ad witchcraft, among others. They’ve put it online, so you can see it as well.
  • I’m running Pendragon for a small group, including at least one Papers reader. Having reviewed my strengths as a game master, I think this is a very good system to my proclivity for enabling characters’ poor life choices. In Dungeons and Dragons, this generally leads to strife among characters and players; in Pendragon, it’s fun storytelling.
  • My Dungeons and Dragons game (Rules Cyclopedia) is coming to a close, with characters having ascended from first level to levels 8 and 9. We still have a couple of modules to tackle before we’re done.
  • I’m also working on and off on a pseudo-Slavic hexcrawl hack of 1981 Moldvay Basic/Expert D&D, with lots of which I’m not sure what to do with.
  • Here’s the obligatory link to a page of my books for sale. Also, the excellent Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present is now available in paperback for $41.
Published in: on December 21, 2019 at 8:52 pm  Comments (5)