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.
Advertisements
Published in: on May 25, 2019 at 6:38 pm  Comments (2)  

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  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 1

(Before I begin, it’s important to note a potential slight conflict of interest. I have tried from time to time to get one of the beautiful Sibly Claves – the one at the Senate House Library, from which my Experimentum was extracted – published. It’s never gotten beyond the “hey, I think this would be neat” phase with any publishers, but I’ll let readers decide whether this is important as the review progresses.)

Golden Hoard has just released its latest work, The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic. The work is a reproduction of the National Library of Israel’s MS Yah. Var. 18, an early nineteenth-century Key of Solomon and product of the manuscript workshop of London bookseller John Denley. Previous editions, reproducing manuscripts from private collections, have been issued, one from Ben Fernee’s Caduceus Books, and the other from Weiser edited by Joseph Peterson. I’ve also published a segment of one of the more elaborate ones as the Experimentum.

In this review, I’ll be talking about what makes the Peterson and Golden Hoard editions different, and give an assessment of each. (I’ll set aside the Caduceus Books, as they are long out of print.)

First, though, we need to talk about the binding.

Josiah Bacon mentioned in the comments that his copy came with serious damage to the binding. Sadly, mine did as well, with the book block tearing away from the cover even before I opened the package. I was able to replace it through Amazon with a copy that is holding up better. I also looked at a copy at Enchantments in NYC that was in good shape. My recommendation is to check any copy before you purchase it in a store, or order from sellers who have clear return and replacement policies.

(Also, to be clear, my copy has the standard binding, and not the special leather-bound editions that are sold directly from Golden Hoard, which I have not seen.)

As for the art… this is a stunning book. The previous Keys published are visually impressive but still workmanlike, with the emphasis being on penmanship and accuracy. What the Golden Hoard edition presents instead is what must have been the deluxe version, with copious use of multicolored inks, elaborate illustrations to the point of gaudiness, and pages upon pages of additional content. We have two such manuscripts so far, the one at the National LIbrary of Israel and another in the Harry Price collection of the Senate House Library (the basis of the Experimentum).

I’m going to be reproducing (badly) some illustrations from different editions, to give you a better idea of what to look for. First, let’s look at “The Magic Ring” in the Weiser edition:

 

Weiser The Magic Ring Diagram

Here’s the same diagram in the Golden Hoard:

IMG_7219

Let’s look at the pentacle (actually a repurposed magic circle) for Friday, first from Weiser:

IMG_7215

Now from the Golden Hoard edition:

IMG_7216

You’ll note that the illustrations in the latter obscure the origin of the piece in a standard Heptameron-style magical circle, and that it is incorrectly labeled as being the seal from Thursday there. Thus, occasional inaccuracies worked into the deluxe edition.

How does this compare to the Senate House version – at least to what’s published in the Experimentum? Let’s take a look. Here’s the Knot of Hercules from Caduceus:

IMG_7222

And now from Golden Hoard:

IMG_7221

Yah. Var. 18 does appear to be in better condition, as you can see. Also, it’s not clear as to whether one of these is more “accurate” than the other, although the one from Experimentum does appear somewhat more like a traditional magical diagram.

Next time, we talk about the manuscript’s content.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

On Leaving Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I’ve got a book proposal to work on, a foreword to write, a stack of great books dealing with grimoires and folk magic to read. So, there’s nothing to be done than write a post about silly elf games, right?

I’ve been running an old-school D&D game for over three years now (for those interested, Rules Cyclopedia with Moldvay insertions). This is not perfect, so for some rules I’ve ported in rules and scenarios from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, a newer game that began as a weird fiction D&D clone supported with a great range of products. I’ve enjoyed many of their products from DriveThru, and a highlight from my occasional trips to NYC is to stop at the Compleat Strategist to pick up the latest print releases. In fact, my next session was going to start our adventurers through Frostbitten and Mutilated, an award-winning supplement written by Zak S., who has been a staple in the Old School Revival community for quite some time.

And then his ex-partner Mandy Morbid, along with others, came forward with some extremely troubling and disturbing allegations of sexual abuse and assault.

Recent years have made us much more aware of the treacherous world women have to move through, and the importance that we hear and support those who have experienced traumatic events. At the same time, we sometimes hear voices raising concerns about false accusations, even though these are a minuscule fraction of the accounts that we’re hearing. In this particular case, Zak’s “defense” contained a confession that he non-consensually strangled one of the women in question, so if anyone wanted to start that debate, it’s over.

(No, I’m not linking to him.)

We’ve had statements from Wizards of the Coast, GenCon, Contessa, DriveThruRPG, and Kenneth Hite, all disassociating themselves from him.

That brings us to Lamentations and its publisher, James Raggi IV, who published his response on Facebook. The fact that he didn’t link to it elsewhere on social media or fora is indicative of how problematic it is. I’ve made comments there, and I want to supplement them here.

In terms of business matters, I’m sympathetic to James’ position. Small presses often operate in a precarious world. The illness or death of a family member, the departure of a partner, a delay at the printer, a book that doesn’t meet expectations – all of these can create situations that can doom or seriously damage a business. Certainly, having your top four selling books (at least on DriveThru) associated with a confessed assailant is going to be a serious problem.

It’s also worth remembering that publishers have many constraints on them – contractual obligations to creators and distributors, customers to satisfy, inventory to move, bills to pay. All of these might prevent a business from making a clean break with a problematic creator.

Thus, I understood the business portion of James’ piece. The personal one is a dumpster fire. It ignores the seriousness and credibility of the accusations to focus solely on the impact on James and Zak, and the fact that Internet trolls might be happy about this (but are they ever, really?). It also provides language that some will read as providing support and cover for this sort of behavior, although James has tried to walk back some of that.

Given that all these people have made their choices, what is mine? Here’s where I am, and I’m certainly open to responses.

  • I have dipped into Zak S.’s writing from time to time for my games, as much of it is good. At this point, it goes to a dark corner of the shelves.
  • It occurs to me that I’m actually in a book with Zak – the anthology Petty Gods from some years ago. I didn’t even know he was in there, to be honest. I’ll commit to not working on projects with him in the future – but I wasn’t planning to, so there’s that.
  • Zak also edited Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart. Zak’s financial stake in the book has ended, and Patrick has had his own history of problems with Zak, so I have no qualms about using it. Plus, it’s brilliant.
  • I’m keeping the rest of my Lamentations collection, and I’ll make a decision about using or not using it as I go forward.
  • I have some small elements of Lamentations in my game – the specialist, skill system, rules on financial investments, and a few spells. They’ll probably stay for the time being, and be re-evaluated as time goes on.
  • I will not buy further Lamentations products, regardless of author.  I will reconsider this if and when the publisher commits to anti-harassment policies and standards. Yes, it’s a small press that deals mainly with freelancers and that makes games that are run without their supervision, so there are limits to what they can do. But what can be done, should.
  • I’ve offered to run Lamentations at previous conventions. I will not do so in the future. This may be a moot point, because I think many cons already were reluctant to do so, and many more probably will be now. In fact, let’s face it – these last two bullets might be moot in a few months, for all I know.

These are not necessarily the right decisions, and certainly not the right decisions for everyone, and they are certainly up for discussion. Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

Published in: on March 19, 2019 at 9:49 pm  Comments (6)  

New Books by Me!

I’ve heard that some authors actually use their blogs to promote their own books, instead of posting reviews and discussions of other people’s writing and occasional grouchy rants. Let’s try it out!Harms Angels Demons Spirits Cover

First, I somehow believed I’d posted about Of Angels, Demons, & Spirits, my edition of a 17th century book of magic from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, richly illustrated with magical diagrams, talismans, and other goodies redrawn from the original by James Clark. It also includes numerous footnotes, a historical introduction to Thomas Allen, notes on magic in the seventeenth century, and a brief description of the cosmology of spirits in the grimoires.

cover-blue-front

Also, I’ve just released a new slim book, Balloonists, Alchemists, and Astrologers of the Nineteenth Century: The Tale of George and Margaret Graham. I found I had a short work on the Grahams with no corresponding longer piece, so I worked with my friend Casey Hickey to turn it into a book worthy of the name. It’s got balloon accidents, secret societies, balloon accidents, ritual magic, appearances by Raphael and Hockley, and more balloon accidents! You can buy it now in paperback – it’s available through KDP, and it should be available in most Amazon markets.

Published in: on March 14, 2019 at 9:55 pm  Comments (2)  

Dan Reviews The Testament of Solomon – Recension C

Testament+of+Solomon+HBOver a decade ago, when I was doing more non-paid writing, I posted an entire series on the Testament of Solomon, breaking down different aspects of that famous work on demonology and spirit summoning approximately from the fourth century. I knew there were copies from later periods that included more magical material, but I lacked both access to them and the means to read the Greek. Now, Hadean Press has filled that gap with its edition of the Testament of Solomon: Recension C, in which Brian Johnson translates and contextualizes this particular manuscript sub-tradition.

What follows is based on a hardback review copy. It’s a handsome book, and it’s a shame there aren’t more – but you can still pick up a paperback edition.

For such a slim volume, there’s a great deal of material packed within. After David Rankine’s foreword, Johnson dives into the significance of the manuscript, the translation, and its context within Byzantine magic. This will likely be complex for people who are not already familiar with the Testament, but those who have a basic level of knowledge will find this material illuminating and helpful, as it sets this particular tradition in the broader context of the Testament while delving into what sets it apart.

Following this is the translation itself, taken from McCown’s edition of the Testament and supplemented with reference from Harley MS 5596, from the British Library, and Parisinus Graec. MS 2419, from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Johnson omits the material that’s appeared in other editions, such as that of Duling or those available online, in favor of concentrating on the text unique to this particular tradition. The Greek text does not appear with this; interested individuals are referred to the link above.

The centerpiece of that material is a lengthy spirit list, with fifty-two entries, similar to those you might be familiar with from the Goetia and the Book of Oberon. Each one is given the number of other spirits they control, their function, and their seals from both of the manuscripts. Given the interest in these lists, I think many readers will be keen on getting to these. On the other hand, they might be slightly disappointed that these lists don’t match up well with those from other sources – and that the sigils don’t even agree between the two manuscripts. All of these are annotated with detailed footnotes on the translation and the origin of various elements of the composite text.

The work concludes with representations of the Seals of Solomon and a brief note on the spirit Belet. The work has a bibliography, but no index.

I enjoyed this work. I think it would have been possible to scale up with the Greek text, the remainder of the Testament, or other elements, but the decision not to makes the work available sooner to readers in an affordable format. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Greek or Byzantine magic, or in spirit lists, and the low cost means it will be welcome to many readers interested in ritual magic from antiquity to the early modern period.

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)