Review – Making Magic in Elizabethan England

We’ve had some interesting grimoire releases over the past year, and I’ve been remiss in reviewing them. I’ll see what I can do to catch up, beginning with Frank Klaassen’s Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic, which is part of their Magic in History series. This is particularly welcome, as it is the first set of longer texts published by Klaassen, who is an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan and one of the few academics working on early modern magical texts.

The main body of the book consists of transcriptions of two books. The first, Bodleian MS. Additional B.1., is a late sixteenth-century text, with most of its contents being shorter charms dealing with healing, protection, and theft detection. The second, British Library Harley 2267, was completed in 1600 and includes more material about summoning spirits, synthesizing and expanding upon information from Agrippa’s Three Books, the spurious Fourth Book, the Heptameron, and other sources, all of which were not printed in English at the time.

The first text includes extensive passages in Latin, which are provided in columns with the translation thereto. The original spelling has been preserved, which will make the book more appealing to scholars and students but may make for a more difficult read for laymen. Each is extensively annotated – with endnotes, unfortunately, instead of footnotes which could be referred to at the same time as the text. The illustrations within the text are redrawn in the same way as my readers have seen in Oberon and Of Angels – even James’ choice of font seems to have been used here. Both works are prefaced with an insightful introduction and notes on the manuscript and followed with a table giving the sources of Harley 2267 and a bibliography.

I’d like to share with you one of the passages from the second text dealing with the terrifying illusions spirits will show the magician, which gives you as accurate a depiction of the text as WordPress options allow:

Also many tymes horribles sightes will apeare to feare ye from thy worke, as to see thy father or mother slayne afore thy face, or to thinke ye waues of the Sease shoulde droune the, Or Serpentes, lyons, bulles, beares, or dogges to deuour the, Sumtyme ye judge of mayor of ye Toune to cum vnto the, all which are but illusyons… (pp. 110-111)

I find the notes to be particularly illuminating, even though we are sometimes interested in different aspects. For example, Klaassen places more emphasis on the liturgical connections of the text, and I certainly feel this is a direction I want to pursue more in my future works.

On the other hand, he does not always emphasize the elements that I might. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but it’s worth noting. For example, the first manuscript begins with making two wax images for catching thieves – similar rituals appear in Of Angels and my new Bellhouse book. The introduction notes that this is probably adapted from astrological image magic works, to which I would add that it is quite a robust and enduring operation. Further, the rite includes the names of two suspected thieves, suggesting that the copyist (or that of a previous manuscript in the tradition) was oriented toward practice rather than simply curious.

I do have one reservation for recommending this book: the price. The work is $89.95 for 150 pages of content, so this is priced for libraries more than casual readers. Further, the use of parallel texts may mean that the work cannot be converted to a cheap e-book format, as was done with Klaassen’s previous work, The Transformations of Magic. I can certainly hope that a cheaper, paperback student edition will be available soon, so more people can appreciate just how good this work is.

 

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Published in: on September 10, 2019 at 1:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Early September Wrap-Up

So, I’d like to get to a more regular blogging schedule. We’ll see if that holds.

  • NecronomiCon was great, as always. I had two enjoyable panels, one on Delta Green, and the other on horror in games, featuring Sandy Peterson (creator of Call of Cthulhu), Ken Hite (creator of Trail of Cthulhu), Shane Ivey (author of the Delta Green RPG), and a couple of other up and coming creators.

 

 

  • My work continues on The Book of Three Wizards. I’m double-checking the text and creating transcripts of the various diagrams for James. We hit a slow portion, due to the first author’s decision to incorporate some incredibly complex astrological charts, the import of which we’re still debating. There were over nine thousand separate elements I had to check for accuracy, but that’s past.

 

  • Did you know that Golden Hoard is releasing Daniel Clark and Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria soon?

 

 

  • Pam Grossman and William Kiesel of Ouroboros Press are presenting a seminar on “Collecting Grimoires, Spell Books, and Witchcraft Tomes” at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this Saturday at 2 PM.

 

More to come soon, I hope!

Published in: on September 3, 2019 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Swedish Black Books and NecronomiCon Appearances

This announcement from Revelore Press appeared this morning:

Svartkonstböker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition

by Dr Tom K Johnson
Folk Necromancy in Transmission Volume 4

ISBN: 978-1-947544-22-2; Sept 2019; ~650pp.

Svartkonstböker is a fully revised edition of Dr Johnson’s 2010 PhD Thesis Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, featuring a thorough, path-breaking study of the black arts book tradition in Sweden, as well as English translations of 35 Swedish black art books ranging from the 1690s to the 1940s, including over 1900 spells and a robust index.

The late Dr Johnson always wished that his work would see print publication in its entirety. Other publishers have offered to produce this work in two volumes, prioritizing the spells in the black art books over the scholarly apparatus that contextualizes them. Here Revelore presents the work in full, comprising over 650 pages of material. Minor errors from the PhD manuscript have been rectified, and archival images of the characters, sigils, and illustrations have been restored in high fidelity. This is the definitive source work for the Swedish magical corpus of black art books.

If this fulfills this mandate – and it should – it will be amazing. Both paperback and collector’s editions will be available. The paperback is priced at $50, but 650 pages makes it well worth it.

I will also be returning to NecronomiCon this year, and I’ll be on two panels. One is Delta Green based, Sunday at 9 AM. The other is a panel I’m moderating “On Gaming the Weird,” with Sandy Petersen, Kenneth Hite, Fiona Maeve Geist, Shane Ivey, and Badger McInnes. You can see the full schedule here.

Published in: on August 5, 2019 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Enodia Press, Books in Paperback, and Treadwell’s Appearance

Wow. I really missed posting for June and half of July. I should mention that I’m on sabbatical and moving around a bit.

The good thing about Enodia Press is that it makes German Faustian literature available in English translations. The bad thing about Enodia Press is that you’ve had to deal with the Mexican post office to get their books, with all that entails for shipping and a loose definition of “tracking.”

Fortunately, Nicolás Álvarez has decided to circumvent them by beginning to make Enodia Press books, starting with Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis, available in paperback through Amazon. In his email to his customers, he makes it clear that he was not able to keep the illustrations therein full color, but these are only one aspect of a fun and fascinating book.

In general, I’d encourage readers who’ve wanted one book or another and found it too expensive for their collections to double-check. I’m seeing a good number of such works being re-released in paperback at cheaper prices.

For those lucky enough to be near London, I’ll be presenting on “Summoning Spirits” at Treadwell’s the Friday after tomorrow. Come by and purchase / bring books to be signed.

Published in: on July 18, 2019 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Miscellany

Many things are afoot!

  • I’ve been working on the next manuscript for Llewellyn. I’ve done a first pass, save for a few pages I need to re-shoot, and now I’m running a double check on the original before I modernize the language.
  • We have an Indiegogo campaign for a new edition of the grimoire The Red Dragon. The Italian publisher, Black Letter Press, has fulfilled one previous crowdfunding effort, in case you’re interested.
  • Stephen Murtagh has released an Authentication of “The Secret Grimoire of Turiel.” Feel free to read it. I have two brief points. First, it’s probably not a great practice to reproduce most of the illustrations out of a recently-published book, even for purposes of scholarship, when a few would do. Second, proving that Turiel has a pedigree back to Hockley is not the same as proving that it was acquired from a priest in the Canary Islands in 1927.
  • The Glencairn Museum is putting on an exhibition by our friend Patrick Donmoyer on barn stars. Not making it to eastern PA any time soon? You can download the exhibit catalog for free here!
  • Apparently the PSU book for which I wrote an chapter on the Necronomicon, Magic in the Modern World, was released in paperback in December. Halving the price should make it accessible for more readers.
  • I bought The Witcher 3. Jury’s out as to whether this was a mistake. Also, I romanced Triss without meaning to.
  • I’ll in Europe, generally speaking, in July.
Published in: on May 25, 2019 at 6:38 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Faust’s Key of Necromancy,

Enodia Press of Mexico has continued to put out many editions of the German literature attributed to the magician Faust, much of it translated into English for the first time. The most recent of these is a two-part work, the Key of Necromancy, Volume 1 and Volume 2. (Volume 1 is currently out of stock.)

The Key is derived from three different works, likely of the eighteenth century: the Nigromantisches Kunst-Buch,  Der Schlüssel vom der Zwange der Höllen, and Cornell’s 4620 Bc. MS. 19. Content from the three of them has been melded together to make a single text, although variants are noted – especially in the spirit lists, which we’ll certainly get to.

A few notes on the physical books. The first volume is bound in red, and the second in black. Both are impressive, but it’s unusual to bind a two-volume work as such. The first volume often does not indent or space between paragraphs, which makes it slightly harder to read. This is rectified in the second volume, and perhaps this will be corrected if the first volume is re-released.

The first book begins with a brief introduction that delves into the spirituality of the magician, with special emphasis on alchemy.  I’m somewhat skeptical about how much our present-day emphasis on the spiritual qualities of alchemy really carries over into the era in question. Certainly, I’d like to see it better supported than what’s been done here – then again, that’s not what it’s here for, right?

The first of the two books is a single long operation, requiring the consecration of the book, a magical rod, and other tools, along with a circle and multiple conjurations. This is mostly complete, although what constitute the sigils of Solomon are not clear in any of the books consulted. The overall goal of the operation is to call a spirit into a bottle to be questioned, and also to gain control over two subsidiary spirits who can perform rituals at their superior’s direction.

If part of the thesis of your experiment is to trap a spirit in a bottle where it can’t do much, you’re going to want a good selection of spirits to summon. This is an interesting list, because it starts very similar to the list popularized in the Book of Oberon – three kings (Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Satan), then four kings corresponding to the directions, and then subsidiary spirits with different functions. Nonetheless, the list itself diverges quite a bit from Oberon, and it also includes sigils for many of the spirits. This is the section that includes the greatest reassembly of material from all of the manuscripts.

The second book is devoted to a selection of shorter miscellaneous rituals. There’s a conjuration of treasure to come to the magician, with minimal involvement from other spirits. A conjuration of the spirit Waran or Floron invokes not only with the names of God, but by seasons, landscape, flora, and fauna as well. The magician can create candles for mystical operations, or speak to the spirit Sybilla (which is labeled as male in the original German and female in this book). I regret that the operation for the pygmies wasn’t included as well, even if it is present in Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis. Still, those who like these shorter operations should be very happy with the book.

The books are also provided with explanatory endnotes – though not always as comprehensive as I would like – and bibliographies, but no index. The lack of a shared index or table of contents makes finding particular sections and operations somewhat unwieldy, which can be difficult when working with two volumes of nearly four hundred pages total. Also, to be clear, the German text is not provided, but if you check the links above, you can obtain most of it with little effort.

I wouldn’t say The Key of Necromancy was my choice for someone’s first Faustbook. (Come to think of it, having a ‘My First Faustbook’ board book for infants sounds like a horrible idea waiting for an enterprising publisher.) I’d say Magia naturalis et innaturalis or the Mightiest Sea-Serpent might be better selections in this regard. The content will be much appreciated by those who already have those volumes and wish to explore the Faustian tradition.

Unfortunately, the release of two volumes means that the overall price bumps up to $134 plus shipping, which seems quite expensive for what is presented. I’d like to see a combined edition at a cheaper price, but many collectors will be happy with this nonetheless.

Published in: on May 3, 2019 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 4

Over the past three installments, (part 1, part 2, part 3), we’ve discussed all the different aspects of the Golden Hoard edition of the Sibly Clavis. Now would I recommend it, especially with the Weiser Peterson-edited edition also released that might ? That’s an excellent question, especially as the retail price for both works is comparable.

Once again, I’ll reiterate my point about the binding – I hope the examples I’ve seen are anomalies. Beyond that…

Completists: You’re going to buy both anyway.

People interested in exploring the Key of Solomon tradition: It depends on what aspects you’re interested in, I suppose. Both of them are nineteenth-century examples created for a collector’s market, so you’re not going to get into any antecedents of the tradition. If you really want to examine all of the different aspects of the Key, you should have both texts – and both introductions – handy.

People interested in art and magic: Definitely the Golden Hoard edition.

People who want a greater amount of magical material: Golden Hoard again.

People interested in reading about nineteenth-century occultism: Both, as one may cover the gaps in the other.

People interested in magical diagrams: It may surprise you, but sometimes people interested in practicing magic read this blog. For those interested in practical applications, you’ll probably want the Weiser edition, with its easier-to-draw illustrations.

If you fall into multiple categories, I think you’ll have to make a choice. Or purchase both.

I hope this has helped. I’ve got a few other grimoires to write about, but my read of the Picatrix is going slowly at the moment. I think I may dip into The Key of Necromancy from Enodia Press next.

 

 

Published in: on April 24, 2019 at 7:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 3

In our last installment, I promised some thoughts on the Clavis’ introduction. Let’s begin with some personal observations.

Skinner and Clark note regarding The Book of Oberon that “[t]he name change from ‘Oberion’ to ‘Oberon” was a bit of artistic license by the publishers in an effort to make a Shakespearean connection.” (p. 304) This was actually a bit of literary sleight of hand on my part in order to make it clear that the book did include as a major draw rituals calling upon a spirit who was identified therein as the King of the Fairies and had a name very similar to Oberon. I wouldn’t have made the same call in other manuscripts including Oberion, in which his ties to the fairy realm are much more tenuous, as I’ve learned since. Plus, if I’d called it The Book of Oberion, I’d be getting constant messages from people on the Internet asking if it was a typo.

With regard to the list of Clavis manuscripts in both Peterson and Skinner and Clark, I should note that Skinner and Clark omit a manuscript included in Peterson that I eventually tracked down. Of course, I haven’t talked about that and they couldn’t have known that, but it does illustrate that a researcher into these manuscripts will want to have both works on hand for consultation.

Both of the above should not be held against the book, as the authors do not have access to my mind. What troubles me more some egregious errors perpetrated in the introduction. For example, Skinner and Clark discuss the Society of Esoteric Endeavour edition of the Clavis, the original of which bears the date 1868:

On this we are in agreement with Ben Fernee… who also believes this manuscript was more than likely commissioned by Denley… (p. 322)

I can’t speak for Ben, but Denley passed away in 1842, twenty-six years before the date the manuscript was copied.

Elsewhere, the introduction states that Abraham Yahuda’s Clavis, the gorgeous one reproduced within, “may have even been part of the Isaac Newton auction. We can only speculate at this time, but Newton’s manuscripts did contain texts on alchemy, so why not one on magic?” (p. 325) It’s not clear whether the implication is that Newton might have owned a manuscript transcribed approximately a century after his death; I certainly hope this refers to the collection.

We have another oddity in the discussion of the manuscript’s English sources. As readers may know, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) was re-released in 1665, well after his death, with additional magical procedures added by the publisher. Skinner and Clark provide a list of five items from that book, ending with the statement that “Scot would have been appalled.” Without any unholy necromancy, I can say that he definitely would not – everything on that list also appears in the 1584 edition.

I also find the material on Sibly to be problematic, based upon Susan Mitchell Sommers’ expensive but excellent work, The Siblys of London: A Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian Britain. Skinner and Clark do use it considerably, but sometimes particular points are elided over. For instance, Skinner and Clark mention how Sibly “adroitly and profitably used his knowledge of Masonic careers to further the career of a local politician” in Ipswich (p. 338). What is not stated is that Sibly started a Masonic charitable institution and absconded from town with the collected funds intended for the destitute. To me, this is a key point in Sibly’s life necessary for the assessment of his character.

A more troubling omission from the Clavis is Sommers’ take on Sibly as an author. Skinner and Clark state that the preface is “probably originally written by Sibley” (p. 281), that the translation of the Clavis “was done (or caused to be done) by Ebenezer Sibley” (p. 309), and the footnotes later in the transcript are often ascribed to him (e.g., pp. 400-1). Yet how much credit can we give Sibly for this book? Sommers provides the following important context:

A page-by-page analysis of the fourth part of An Illustration, as well as of two of his longer works, the 783-page Culpeper’s British Physician with its attached The Medical Part, and the nearly 400-page A Key to Physic suggests Sibly was actually the author of only a fraction of those 4,000 pages, perhaps as little [sic] 10 or 20 percent. Further, much of what is clearly original composition is transitional material, included to join more substantial borrowed sections. (p. 157)

So, let’s put some caveats on this. All of us acknowledge that Sibly did not write the Clavis – and neither did Solomon – and the material included in these manuscripts is clearly a compilation. We can’t really give him too hard a time for reprinting Culpepper, so perhaps that should be removed from Sommers’ assessment above. Still, Sommers found Ebenezer’s borrowing so pervasive that she dedicates an entire chapter of her work to just that topic.

I’d like to tie this together with my previous concerns about “Doctor Rudd.” To be clear, I see nothing inherently wrong with assuming Sibly had this Clavis translated and compiled, or that “Doctor Rudd” really did come up with the magical system in the Goetia appearing under his name. What is problematic is that work clearly taken from other sources appears under both author’s names, and that proponents of Rudd and Sibly rarely engage with such evidence when asserting their positions. Let’s talk about the borrowing in these cases, and then give reasons for or against whether it happened in the other material for which these authors take credit.

Next time – my recommendations.

Next time – my recommendations.

Published in: on April 13, 2019 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Forthcoming from PSU Press – Making Magic in Elizabethan England and The Long Life of Magical Objects

PSU Press has updated its website with the descriptions of two books, still not apparently available for pre-order or with release dates other than “2019.” First, there’s Frank Klaassen’s edition of two magical texts in Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic:

This volume presents editions of two fascinating anonymous and untitled manuscripts of magic produced in Elizabethan England: The Antiphoner Notebook and the Boxgrove Manual. Frank Klassen uses these texts, which he argues are representative of the overwhelming majority of magical practitioners, to explain how magic changed during this period and how those changes were crucial to the formation of modern magic.

The Boxgrove Manual is a work of learned ritual magic that synthesizes material from Henry Cornelius Agrippa, the Fourth Book of Occult PhilosophyHeptameron, and various medieval conjuring works. The Antiphoner Notebook concerns the common magic of treasure hunting, healing, and protection, blending medieval conjuring and charm literature with materials drawn from Reginald Scot’s famous anti-magic work, Discoverie of Witchcraft. Klaassen painstakingly traces how the scribes who created these two manuscripts adapted and transformed their original sources. In so doing, he demonstrates the varied and subtle ways in which the Renaissance, the Reformation, new currents in science, the birth of printing, and vernacularization changed the practice of magic.

It also notes that the book includes 66 black and white illustrations.

One that seems to be further along toward publication is Allegra Iafrate’s The Long Life of Magical Objects: A Study in the Solomonic Tradition:

Each chapter constitutes a case study that focuses on a different Solomonic object: a ring used to control demons; a mysterious set of bottles that constrain evil forces; an endless knot or seal with similar properties; the shamir, known for its supernatural ability to cut through stone; and a flying carpet that can bring the sitter anywhere he desires. Taken together, these chapters constitute a study on the reception of the figure of Solomon, but viewed from a different angle, they are a collection of cultural biographies on the impact of magical objects and their inherent aesthetic, morphological, and technical qualities.

I do note with dismay that the hardcover cost will be $94.95, which appears to be a substantial increase over the other volumes in the series.

On a more positive note, it also appears that many of the books in the PSU History of Magic series have been re-released in inexpensive paperbacks. If one or another has seemed to be outside your price range, it might be time to check back.

Published in: on April 5, 2019 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 2

Last time, we looked at the physical design and illustrations of the new Golden Hoard Clavis, in comparison with other publications of Clavis materials likely originating in John Denley’s shop. Next, we should cover the content, looking mainly at the Golden Hoard edition in comparison to Joseph Peterson’s Weiser edition.

The two books start out in quite a similar fashion. Following the prefaces, we have complete editions of the Clavis, with full instructions on how to consecrate planetary talismans with planetary timing, tools, circles, and incantations. Next come descriptions and illustrations of talismans for each of the seven planets, as well as spiritual experiments to summon Birto, Vassago, Agares, and Bealpharos. The Wheel of Wisdom is a chart of planetary correspondences, and both volumes add thereafter a copy of A Secret and Complete Book of Magic Science, a book that Hockley seems to have claimed credit for creating.

At this point, the manuscript reproduced in the Weiser edition ends, but the Golden Hoard version continues. We have a treatise on crystallomancy, which should be familiar to readers of The Rosicrucian Seer. We have two compilations of miscellaneous magical procedures, including the ever-popular raising of the spirit Oberion. This material often reflects what’s in the Experimentum – although it doesn’t cover everything therein. It certainly doesn’t follow the same order as the Experimentum, and we also see additional material, such as elaborate love talismans and a procedure to make a magical bell, added. It also adds a treatise on geomancy, probably taken from Heydon’s Theomagia, and some magical tables showing the correspondences of the numbers one through eight. The table for number nine is drawn but blank, raising some interesting questions as to the creation process for this book.

I hesitate to call this a more “complete” Clavis, as this implies a thematic unity which I think is not present here, but Skinner and Clark’s book contains a wonderful selection of occult treatises from material. If you regularly buy Teitan and Caduceus Books, much of it will be known to you already, but it still has items you won’t see elsewhere. If you aren’t in that position, this will catch you up on most of it.

Following this is the introduction, which is placed after the text for reasons that remain unclear to me. Skinner and Clark provide us with a commentary on each section of the manuscript. Next to be covered are brief notes on the French and English sources for the document, and then a more-or-less thorough list of the manuscripts discovered from the tradition.  This follows the same order as Peterson provides in the introduction to the Weiser edition, making it easy to see where further research has revealed more information on the same works. Biographies of Sibley, Denley, Robert Cross Smith (the first “Raphael”), Hockley, F. G. Irwin, and Robert Thomas Cross round it out.

I have several comments on this section, which will follow in my next installment.

 

Published in: on April 4, 2019 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment