RoberCon 2020 This Weekend – Lovecraft and Gaming Talking

This year, our local sci-fi / fantasy / gaming convention, RoberCon, is entirely online.

I’ll be moderating two panels. The first is Saturday at noon EDT, when I’ll be hosting a discussion of Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space.” The second, at 11 on Saturday, will be a bunch of us talking about different roleplaying games.

A badge is only $15, and it gets you into these two panels and a bunch of others. If you’re a fan who’s getting stir-crazy, this is a great opportunity to hear some passionate people talk about what they love, or get some Discord gaming in.

I’ll return to regular blogging soon – and if anyone wants me to speak at an event that’s actually about grimoires and weird magic as we move toward Halloween, just let me know!

Stay safe and take care, everyone.

Published in: on September 21, 2020 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Book of Four Wizards, Illustrating Magic, Magical Manuscripts Online, An British Library Exhibition, Curators of the Occult Speak, Personal Update

My best wishes to all the students, faculty, and university workers who are trying to make the best of all sorts of difficult situations.

I am halfway through the modernization and footnotes on the Book of Four Wizards. The material I’ve found ranges from a ritual right out of the Hygromanteia to a satirical work aimed at discrediting Catholic priests.

Also, if any readers are proficient with the sort of illustration of magical seals and diagrams that appear within my last two works and want to work on something of the sort, please get in touch.

Editions du Monolithe posted a link to a manuscript with magical material, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 212. Also, here’s an Italian Clavicula at the University of Pennsylvania. You might also check out Frater Acher’s site, where he’s put up translations of some manuscripts from the Leipzig magical archive.

If you happen to be in a country where taking basic precautions against communicable disease isn’t a political argument that leads to everyone visiting the UK undergoing two weeks of quarantine, you might take in the British Library’s exhibition of Hebrew books, including a manual of magic.

Brian Johnson posted a link to this talk at the Brooklyn Book Fair by several curators of library collections that involve magic or the occult, which I have yet to watch.

My next review will be Newcomb’s A Modern User’s Guide to the Black Pullet, although that might wait until next month to be finished.

Published in: on September 11, 2020 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Black Abbot, White Magic

Black Abbot, White Magic cover

Frater Acher’s book Black Abbot, White Magic: Johannes Trithemius and the Angelic Mind is an exploration of Johannes of Heidelberg, better known as Trithemius, the Abbot of Sponheim, one of the great scholars and humanists of his time. Trithemius is chiefly remembered today for two aspects of his life: his writings on cryptography, and his reputation for mastery of the occult sciences. Black Abbot is a welcome addition to the burgeoning number of medieval magical texts, and although it does have its flaws, it does provide much of interest to researchers and curiosity-seekers alike.

(Full disclosure: I’ve written the introduction to another book published by Scarlet Imprint, and this is a personally purchased copy.)

First, I should give Frater Acher credit for writing a book that uses scholarly sources that he attempts to cite correctly in footnotes and with a bibliography. It would be better if the book had an index, but it appears Scarlet Imprint is sending people a PDF version with it, which mitigates this considerably.

The work includes two books attributed to Pelagius the Hermit and his student Libanius Gallus, and a later work spuriously attributed to Trithemius, all of which are taken from Leipzig University’s collection of magical manuscripts and reproduced with translations on Frater Acher’s website. Given that Trithemius is known for multiple occult classics that we know with some confidence he wrote – and which don’t have readily-available translations available – this is an unusual choice for a book dedicated to him. Also, when we have earlier Latin texts and later translations in German of the same item, Acher chooses the German, and it’s sometimes unclear as to how much the Latin was consulted and what differences might be found. Some of the criteria for inclusion are partially explained by the conclusion, but I’d have liked to see the rationale for choosing these particular texts spelled out a bit more, with more notes on the other texts.

Setting aside these questions, the treatises translated within are intriguing and unlike much of what is often considered to be ritual magic. The first work, confusingly named the Two Books and attributed to Pelagius the Hermit, involves a lengthy procedure for getting in touch with one’s “good angel” by a set of prayers performed before a bedroom altar with a crucifix and wax candles. The second, the Tablet of Truth, is supposed taken from a letter by Libanius Gallus and based on the teachings of Pelagius. The tablet is a large piece of wood, carved on both sides, and bearing a compartment in the middle designed to hold either a papally-blessed Agnus Dei or a piece of the True Cross. The magician holds a consecrated piece of bread on a needle and thread over the center, which allows for answering of questions. Both texts epitomize the attempt to create rituals with instrumental results, but with preference of the use of prayer and devotion to the invocation of spirits, voces magicae, and other more “demonic” rites.

This cannot be said for the third treatise, the General Key, a book that appears to have been written well after Trithemius’ death. The Key provides a framework for magical operations based upon the associations of each of the seven traditional planets, using appropriate scents, sacrifices, timing, angelic invocations, and other elements, with an example portraying a ritual to obtain love. The work is so brief that the operations within cannot be extrapolated without reference to other works on planetary correspondences, so it will be of little interest to most readers who are familiar with planetary magic.

The final piece in the work is perhaps the only one that is unambiguously by Trithemius: the Powder of Pelagius, taken from his work against magical practices, Antipalus maleficiorum. Acher assembles the formula from different passages in that book to constitute a single operation. The Powder, apparently a substitution for magical remedies used for exorcism or purification, combines herbs, wax from Paschal candles, grave dirt, and other substances in order to provide a substance that might be used to create crosses for exorcism, baths, or drinks or broths.

Each one of these texts appear with a commentary by Acher, giving the text’s history, outlining his understanding of their practice, and providing an idea of their positioning within the broader historical and magical traditions. I’d say this is more aimed at practitioners than scholars, but there is certainly enough detail here to inspire further reading an exploration.

A brief note about the documentation for these sections: The presence of footnotes is very welcome – yet it’s not always clear which source is being referred to, due to similiarities in titles or quoting an anthology instead of the particular chapter thereof. Also, I understand why a book would include “Selected Sources” – although this is definitely not my choice – but it doesn’t work well with minimalist citations.

Acher ends the book by making an argument that both Pelagius and Libanius may have been creations of Trithemius, allowing the maligned magician to put forth his magical ideas without condemnation. I think the argument sounds plausible, although I hope that someone better versed in the life and work of Trithemius would weigh in on its probability. It does run against some of the comments at the beginning of the book heralding Pelagius as one of the few medieval authors on magical texts willing to put his name on them, suggesting these two sections were written at different times without intervening editing.

I generally don’t call out minor errors in my reviews – it’s part of the writing and publishing process – but there are a couple I feel I should note. At one point, Acher mentions that the third book of Trithemius’ Steganographia was never deciphered, quoting D. P. Walker on the topic. Yet the book was deciphered in 1998, in what was probably the major Trithemius discovery of the past few decades.

The section on the “Powder of Pelagius” has another issue I think should be highlighted. Acher provides the nine herbal ingredients for this substance, noting afterward that “it was possible to use the mixture of all these pulverised herbs… as no indigestible or poisonous substances are part of the formula” (p. 148). This is a problematic statement to include in a book with formulae that some people might be tempted to use topically or internally. For example, one of these herbs cited is pennyroyal, which can have toxic properties based upon the dosage and the person taking it. My feeling is that it’s best to include disclaimers for any herbal concoctions.

Considered as a whole, I think that Black Abbot is a worthy book that highlights a number of hitherto-untranslated magical texts that will be of interest to some readers. I would point out that the book is probably not scholarly enough for academics, and not dark enough in tone for those who prefer their magic have a more mysterious or diabolical character. Nonetheless, there is certainly an audience for this work, and I hope that Black Abbot finds them.

Published in: on September 7, 2020 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Editions du Monolithe’s Liber Armadel

Editions du Monolithe Edition of the Armadel

Éditions du Monolithe is a publisher whose catalog I always check, but which doesn’t get much mention here on Papers. Mostly, this is because their publishing program is focused upon translating material into French from other languages, and much of this material is already available for English-speaking literatures. There’s been one recent exception – their release of an English-language version of the Armadel in a limited edition of 50 copies. As you can imagine, this has been sold out for a while, but I wanted to discuss it in case you run across it – or, better yet, it is re-released.

First, a little background. Although some point to signs of an original in German, the Armadel is known through two separate French and Latin manuscripts, Arsenal MS. 826 (not Manuscript 88, as more recent editions have listed, as this manuscript number does not seem to be accurate) and Arsenal MS. 2494 , both formerly at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, the collection of which has been folded into the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. This particular work incorporates the first, although referring to the second for additional clarification.

After a surprisingly brief summoning procedure, the Armadel provides with a series of the names and seals of angels who played a role in various Biblical events and who the magician can approach for various purposes more or less connected with those narratives. Text is provided for the spirits’ functions in both French and Latin, often with serious disparities between the two descriptions. The most striking element here are the multicolored and elaborate spirit seals for many of these. Although the spirit list begins with the names of angels and archangels, the treatise later dips into the demonic and post-Arbatel Olympic realms. In terms of overall structure, this places it more in the camp of the “spirit lists” like the Goetia, more dedicated to providing spirits for various purposes than illustrating how to call them. We also get some tiresome treatises on spirit summoning and virtues, which I assume someone will want to read.

After a short introduction, the Monolithe edition provides a full-color facsimile of Arsenal 826, which is quite stunning and eye-catching. This is followed by an English text, with the Latin passages also provided and translated, and any accompanying seals reproduced nearby again to complement this material. I found my hopes of a new translation were dashed; the English texts are taken entirely from Mathers, and it would have been nice to see at least a new translation of the French, if not the Latin.

At the beginning of the Weiser edition I own is a seal dedicated to an operation dedicated to the archangel Uriel. Based on what I’ve seen in this edition and practitioner accounts online, there’s considerable speculation as to this being the key to the entire Armadel operation. Yet an examination of the facsimile here and the digitized copies above show that this diagram appears after the end of the Arbatel, and at the beginning of another short ritual that Mathers didn’t bother to translate. This edition does provide a translation of this material, a discussion of the role of Uriel in ritual magic, along with a few other short operations using Uriel for divination. The origin of these is unclear – the closest we come is attributing one to a “Grimorium Verum” manuscript.

Does a grimoire collector need to track this down? Not necessarily. Most of the material is accessible between the more commonly-available Mathers text and the manuscript files to which I’ve linked above. The exception is the material on Uriel, which is relatively short and might not interest everyone. I’d say it’s certainly worth checking to see if it comes out again – and I’d prefer it to the Weiser edition – but one need not go to great lengths to obtain it.

Published in: on August 18, 2020 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Podcast on Spirits, A Review Response and Editorial Principles, Reviewing Another OOP Book, Wax Images in the Book of Four Wizards, Dumb Politics

Last year when visiting the Museum of Witchcraft, I met with Heather Freeman, a professor of digital media at UNC Charlotte. We had a talk about familiar spirits in grimoires, in anticipation of a project to create a documentary. COVID transformed that into a podcast, and I make an appearance in Episode 6. You can check it out here, and read her post on the Societas Magica blog on it.

Aaman Lamba has made Twitter comments on my review of the new Grand Grimoire edition, which I would recommend you read. He’s correct about my low-key check-in on translated versions of classic books via dictionary – it’s problematic enough that I feel I should note when I’m doing it, but I think it does sometimes yield useful information. It would be better to include feedback from bilingual readers – and if you’re interested in contributing something, please let me know.

I’d also like to highlight my comments at the beginning of that article, regarding the profusion of cheap grimoire reprints swamping the market. Most of these offer little more than you can get for free online, and there’s enough quality material out there for the collector to bypass them entirely. So you won’t see me talk about them here – and I’ll add you might want to Google the editor of such a work before purchasing it, to see where your money is going.

My next book up for review is the English Armadel, from Éditions du Monolithe, which is… (checks) yep, no longer available on their website. Maybe by the time I’ll finish it, it’ll be back in print, as happened with Praxis Magica Faustiana?

I’m also working on the Book of Four Wizards. Those of you who’ve read Of Angels or Bellhouse’s book might recall a ritual to bring back thieves that requires the creation of a wax image with magical seals and words, including “Iris” and “Sibilia,” carved at various points on the body. It then calls upon three angels – Sabaoth, Uriel, and Raguel – to bring the person back as the magician holds the image near the fire. What I’ve found seems to be a variant in which the same image is used for love, with an entirely different set of incantations and spirits. I’m going back through some manuscripts to see if there’s another example. So far, the other eight I’ve found are primarily for theft.

For those who were curious about what I said before about toxic people bringing politics into their fandom whether we want them to or not, I present the latest on the Flashing Swords! revival. It’s disappointing – I think many fans of all stripes would have liked to see the return of a classic series dedicated to sharing the best fantasy stories. I suppose we can’t have nice things.

Published in: on August 5, 2020 at 8:59 am  Comments (4)  

Review – The Complete, Illustrated Grand Grimoire, or Red Dragon, Interlinear Edition

The revolution in independent publishing through Amazon KDP and Lulu has led to a profusion of self-published re-releases of various grimoires. For the most part, I’ll be ignoring these; the price-conscious consumer can likely find legitimate free versions online, and usually the price for a more reputable copy is not so much more. It’s rare that one of them brings something else to the table – but it does happen.

Today’s offering is The Complete Illustrated Grand Grimoire or Red Dragon, Interlinear Edition, translated by Aaman Lamba and edited by Arundell Overman. Just to be clear, there is also an Illustrated Grand Grimoire from the same team, although it’s not immediately clear from the preview tables of contents as to how much overlap there is, save for one clear omission we’ll get to later. This review is based on a personally purchased copy of the longer edition. (Links to reviews of editions from other presses will appear below.)

I don’t usually comment much on the layout and organization of a book, but this one leaves me baffled. Sub-headings are lengthy and in a large font, sometimes taking up almost half a page. In the later section of the book – to which we’ll arrive – not only does each chapter not have a section header, but the text for each starts at the top of the page. The illustrations for the grimoires do not accompany the corresponding text, but instead appear as a group at the beginning of the main text. The table of contents lovingly describes every subheading of the introduction, while the texts themselves are broken down in a more perfunctory manner. This is somewhat ameliorated by the presence of an index, but the book could be improved fairly simply by more attention being paid to these issues.

The introduction attempts to encompass a history of magic from the dawn of time through the modern era. Although I found few inaccuracies, the scope is far too wide, and there are certainly better works covering each topic in particular. Following this is a section on the spirits from the book, featuring large illustrations of the seal and appearance of most of the spirits from the book, taken from other sources. I’m not sure how necessary this section is, but it might be of worth to readers more interested in the correspondences of demons between different grimoires.

Then we arrive at the text, which is indeed an interlinear text with the French or Latin in the left-hand column and an English translation on the right. This works fairly well, although it’s undercut by the fact that we don’t know what exact text was used as the original source. I really wish publishers would stop being coy on this particular issue.

Yet, how does it stack up against other translations? I picked up the two texts immediately on hand that are not A. E. Waite: Wentworth’s translation from Teitan Press, and Paul Summers Young’s from Black Letter. I did some brief comparisons among a few passages and gave a French dictionary a workout, and I’d have to say Wentworth came out ahead, but not by much. Unfortunately, Young’s edition just seems to have material… missing, like part of an incantation or one of the times of day the magician should eat during preparation. It’s not clear on what edition that one is based upon, so it’s hard to say where exactly those problems crept in.

If you want to hear more about the contents of the Grand Grimoire, my reviews of those other translations, or a glance at Waite, will probably satisfy your interests.

Yet Lamba does add something that I’ve wanted to read for some time: an edition of the Dragon Rouge, the novel with the same name as the grimoire. Fortunately I didn’t try to read it earlier. Our hero, Claude Michu, is duped by a local magician into performing an evocation from the magical Dragon Rouge, in the course of which the local skeptical community terrify him by pretending to be demons. He then takes their side, listens to a lot of lectures, gets electrocuted by his new friends, and then marries his local sweetheart, while the magician is eventually carted off to jail. It’s more of a tiresome moralizing tract than anything else, but it does provide a curious sideline to the history of the grimoires.

I’m somewhat torn as to whether to recommend this book. It is probably the best edition of the Grand Grimoire that I’ve seen in print, but I’d much rather have the Wentworth book if I had to choose. Also, I’m wondering if the book might not benefit from some tightening up of the layout and proofreading, and it might be good to wait to see if this occurs. Yet I can see what the author was trying to accomplish, and even if it was not all achieved, enough of it was to make this book worthwhile.

Published in: on July 24, 2020 at 8:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Black Lives Matter, Gaming, Various Book Releases

Generally, I don’t post about politics on Papers, as I assume most of you are here for other purposes. Yet even in this time of uncertainty, we are seeing a growing movement to reconsider histories and interpretations thereof, especially regarding the role of and mostly negative impact on people of color. Justice for all people is something we should all strive for, yet many of us have become adept at finding reasons not to do so.

Nonetheless, we live in a world that is indeed the product of long-term systemic inequities that impact every aspect of our life. For example, it was the vast sugar plantations of Jamaica that financed Sir Hans Sloane’s immense collecting which led to the creation of the British Museum and Library, which have become key resources for the study of the history of magic and the creation of modern ceremonial magic, with later effects on the religious and cultural movements that have arisen from this. Further, as I’ve reviewed my thought on the Simon Necronomicon recently, I’ve realized that I didn’t emphasize that one of the best-selling occult books of all time repeatedly treats the “Aryan race” as if it’s a legitimate concept.

I know some readers engage with magic, folklore, spirituality, science fiction and horror fandom, or roleplaying games as escapes from the everyday world, and that they don’t want to turn what they love into a culture wars battlefield. But it is already. In each one of these communities, I’ve encountered people with genuinely toxic beliefs – racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Nazism – who are intent on not just participating as fans, but expressing their ideology and perpetrating their symbolism within them. And many of these people are writers, artists, editors, and publishers, and thus people who have considerable ability to influence the field and disseminate their message. This drives away people who might be of historically disadvantaged groups that may also want to become fans and creators, thereby driving down the richness and creativity of these communities for reasons that have nothing to do with the passions leading most members to participate.

Some people have become increasingly concerned about “cancel culture,” and we should acknowledge that people can be mistaken in good faith and have the capacity to learn and change. Yet, at appropriate times, we should make it clear about where we ourselves stand on these issues, not for the sake of congratulating ourselves or seeking the approval of others, but to let people know that people of principle are present, are mindful of the community’s health, and will speak out if they see behavior that makes others unwelcome.

We have a couple of catchphrases that people use to dismiss such claims in a superficial manner, and I’ll probably get a couple in the comments. Yet if one stands for principles and equality, and it doesn’t affect what they say or do when it can help others – what good is it?

Now that you’ve sat through that – how about some book recommendations?

My strategy of waiting so long to review books that they go out of print has succeeded, at least once! By which I mean, Enodia Press has released Praxis Magica Faustiana (review here) as a paperback on Amazon.

One of the neat extras included in the Caduceus Bellhouse edition was a series of columns from the Liverpool Mercury from 1857 that dealt with detailed accounts of the spiritualists, crystal-gazers, and cunning folk of that time and place. S. R. Young has put these out as a short book, forming a rich collection of nineteenth-century magical practices and the public attitudes toward them.

Hadean has also released Issue 4 of the Conjure Codex, featuring articles on Michael Scot, the Books of Cyprian, and art projects inspired by the Picatrix decans, among others.

I’ve got two other posts in the works – probably some thoughts on The Gnome Manuscript from Troy Books, and a new edition of the Grand Grimoire. Both of them need some work before completion.

Published in: on July 11, 2020 at 10:53 am  Comments (4)  

Treadwell’s, Magic Journal for Free, Manuscript Update, Magical Notes and Queries, The Internet Archive, Nonsense Words, and the Modena Inquisition

I’m working with Treadwell’s again to put on a series of lectures on various topics. One – a talk on fairy magic – is up in their lecture series, and I’m thinking about some others.

The journal Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft has put its contents out for free online until the end of the month – so, very soon. If you miss that, or you like what you see, membership in the Societas Magica is pretty cheap.

I’m finding my way along through a lengthy Latin section of love spells in The Book of Four Wizards. A good number of them come from the Picatrix, yet there are some others – one with valerian, one with rosemary flowers, and a final one with the fleshy part of a foal’s head – that I have yet to source.

I’m wondering if a good resource for researchers in the history of magic wouldn’t be a magical version of the journal Notes and Queries, suitable for brief inquiries into problems that might emerge during research. If anyone has any great ideas for how to accomplish that, please let me know.

The latest big news in intellectual property was that the Internet Archive shut down unlimited access to its National Emergency Library due to a publisher lawsuit. There are concerns now that this means the Internet Archive itself will cease to exist, which is a major problem due to the extensiveness and usefulness of its public domain scanning program. People are up in arms at the publishers, and at author Chuck Wendig in particular, for suing and speaking out.

To explain my position, let me use an analogy:

You have evidence that the local casino is crooked and exploitative. You have extensive talks with your family about it. Then one day, a family member walks into the casino, puts the family’s retirement and college savings on red, and loses it all. When everyone finds out about what happened, they get mad at the casino.

The Internet Archive’s collection really is a wonderful resource, but getting mad at publishers is always easy – and getting mad at particular authors is too much like punching down for my tastes. If we want the world that the Internet Archive promised, you need to starting building it with systematic change of the copyright system.

Rant off.

A couple of other works I’ve dipped into deserve a brief mention here. Ciaran Arthur’s ‘Charms’, Liturgies, and Secret Rites in Early Medieval England proposes that it’s difficult to separate charms from liturgical material in monastic texts of the time. Further, he proposes that a great deal of what we think of as voces magicae, or nonsense words of power in incantations, may be multilinguistic monastic wordplay, at least in the particular setting he’s studying. It’s certainly a hypothesis that should be examined in connection with texts from other eras – I’m not sure how useful it is for early modern magic, when English monasticism came to an end and we end up with texts that are explicitly magical, but it’s worth looking into.

I also enjoyed part of Matteo Duni’s Under the Devil’s Spell, a work on the Inquisition’s exploration of magical practices in Modena during the Renaissance. That’s not to dismiss the rest – I just went straight for his translations of the depositions, for some interesting material on magical practices from the period. Both books are worth looking into at your local library, whenever those open in your area again.

Be safe and well, everyone.

Published in: on June 26, 2020 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Review – Wendigo Lore: Monsters, Myths, and Madness

I’m jumping back to my horror roots quickly to return to one of my favorite topics: the wendigo, the anthropophagous monster of Cree and Ojibwa myth. Back as an undergraduate, I did considerable reading on this topic, and I even wrote an article on windigo psychosis for The Unspeakable Oath many, many years ago. My college-age self would have loved my review copy of Chad Lewis and Kevin Lee Nelson’s Wendigo Lore: Monsters, Myths, and Madness, and I can enjoy it as well, with a few reservations.

Wendigo Lore Book Cover

The windigo phenomena is a complex one that has seen much transformation over time, beginning with the monsters’ appearances in Native American legend and history and leading to the present-day media landscape with its inexplicably horned monstrosities. What Lewis and Nelson have set themselves out to do is to be comprehensive about the topic, bringing together First Nations legends, pioneer diaries, newspaper accounts, anthropological analyses, and today’s folk traditions.

I’m not a windigo expert, but I did so some poking around in the literature about the legend a while ago, and I did come into this book with a list of sources that I considered crucial for inclusion. To their credit, Lewis and Nelson managed to find all of them. The only sources I think they missed were Brian Lumley’s Ithaqua novels, but that doesn’t affect their argument much.

Wendigo Lore begins with an introduction to the geography of windigo myths and an exploration of the windigo myth. It then dips into particular places and events, dealing with trials of windigo killers and locales where windigo folklore has been particularly strong. The authors devote a chapter to windigo psychosis, curing the windigo, and destroying windigo, before moving on to the fictional depictions of the creature. The book conlcudes with a discussion of other ferocious beasts of legend that bear some similarity to the windigo. All of this is most satisfying for those interested in exploring the topic, and serves as a comprehensive guide to the topic.

Sadly, a comprehensive guide needs a structure that makes it usable, and this book doesn’t quite come up to that standard. The lack of an index makes tracking down particular people and places difficult. A lesser concern is the lack of endnotes, although a list of references pertaining to each chapter is a nice concession. None of these are necessary for an entertaining read, but those who want to be able to use the book in a more intensive way will find this problematic.

There’s only one other major omission from the book, which requires me to discuss the following quote from the introduction:

The only remaining stumbling block was the poignant question of whether two Caucasian men from the Midwest had the right to tackle such a profound First Nation legend. Would this be just another failed attempt at cultural appropriation?… Yes, unquestioningly, the wendigo is, and always will be, a First Nation legend, much like vampires are forever tied to Transylvania, werewolves to Europe, leprechauns to Ireland and so on and so on. Yet all these monsters are not simply bound by a specific culture, geographical borders, period of time, religion, gender, or belief system. They exist in the deepest recesses of the human brain; they transcend man-made labels and harken back to something darker and more sinister that dwells deep within the human mind.

I think it’s a good question to ask – but it’s not the only one that should have been asked, and the universalist answer gets in the way of that questioning. All sorts of people tell narratives with vastly different content for a variety of motivations in many different contexts. As anyone who has watched a lot of bad movies knows, appeal to the collective unconscious and shared human experience only gets you so far. Whether a story becomes compelling or popular can be due to storytelling ability, language, marketing, or larger political, economic, or cultural trends.

When it comes to a culture’s stories about monsters or supernatural beings, it’s common for outsiders to adopt those stories for their own ends, which often run counter to the intentions or interest of people in that culture. Yet there’s a difference between the appropriation of a story to make a group look backward and superstitious (e.g. those of vampires and leprechauns), and the same to make a group look like backward, superstitious, murderous cannibals. Although the windigo story has taken on a wide variety of meanings as it has been retold, one of the major reasons that European Americans told it was as a tool in service of a broader agenda that led to illness, incarceration, poverty, and death for many people. This usage is likely a major reason that the windigo became as popular as it is today.

Just to be clear, this is not the entire story about the windigo, and I do not think people should stop enjoying windigo media because of its history – although I respect anyone’s choice to disengage with it. That history is a key part of the story that the book barely addresses, however – maybe a quick mention in connection with one of the cases. The rest of the book shows that the authors would have been up to the task – but they didn’t really ask the question, and I feel it is a drawback to what is otherwise a good and enjoyable work.

What can I recommend? If the last few paragraphs resonate with you as a reader, I’d suggest reading Shawn Smallman’s Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth and History first, as that’s a scholarly work that deals in more depth with the uses of windigo stories. I would still recommend Wendigo Lore, however, as a handy, easy-to-read reference on these fascinating mythologocial creatures.

Published in: on June 20, 2020 at 10:01 am  Comments (4)  

Review: Praxis Magica Faustiana, Enodia Press

It’s time to return to the review pile, which again is so backed up that I’m reviewing a book no longer available from the publisher and comparing it to another such work. Nobody can’t say that Papers doesn’t give you your money’s worth.

In this case, the book is Enodia’s edition of the classic Faustian grimoire Praxis Magica Faustiana, also once available from Caduceus Books. (Note: I’ve published two books through Caduceus.) As I can’t show you either one of these, you might content yourself with the earliest known manuscript, Q 455 at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek , until another becomes available.

The Praxis Magica Faustiana is a short treatise, giving portions of a ritual for summoning a spirit within plates with a variety of mysterious images. The earliest copies dating to the mid- to late eighteenth century, later being included in Scheible’s compilations Das Kloster and the Doctor Faust’s Bucherschatz attributed to Faust. (My own semi-informed guess is that this was one of the short books put together as custom works for German collectors that later became part of the canon.) It is primarily known to readers of English through Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic, which notes an English-language manuscript sans most pictures copied by Herbert Irwin, which eventually ended up at the Cleveland Public Library (digitized here).

The Enodia edition is taken from the Scheible edition, as is the Caduceus – but not every edition of Scheible is created equal. Unfortunately, not all Scheible editions are created equally, especially when it comes to the vibrancy of the red included in the text. The image below, in which we see the Caduceus cover on the left and the Enodia on the right, gives some idea, although the lack of light on the right makes it look almost black and white. Having seen various copies of Das Kloster, I can say that the coloration can vary between bright red and muddy red-brown, so I wish Enodia had gone with a more vibrant selection.

That being said, the contents of both editions are similar – reproductions of the original plates, transcriptions and translations of the German and Latin text, and commentary. I won’t pass judgment on the Enodia’s German translations, but an initial appraisal of the Latin makes me wish it had undergone another examination before publication.

Both the Enodia and the Caduceus editions attempt an interpretation of the images within this book. I do believe that these images call out for interpretation – but I think the most necessary route to understanding them is an examination in the light of late eighteenth-century German iconography, with emphasis on parallels in the religious and alchemical imagery of the period.

It’s difficult for me to recommend a standalone edition of the Praxis, no matter which publisher. It’s a very thin book and not a great example of either Faustian magic or esoteric iconography – even before we overlook the second-hand markup. It’s a work I see as being for completists – grimoire completists, Faustiana completists, or esoteric art completists. In that case, this one’s for you, and I hope it comes back on the market soon.

Published in: on June 10, 2020 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)