Palgrave Sale, Treadwell’s Lecture, Faustian Grimoire in Paperback, A Discussion on Magic in French, and the Obligatory Author Holiday Sales Pitch

We’re coming up on the end of 2020, and it can’t come soon enough (though let’s not forget the potential impact of Brexit in January). Still, it hasn’t been a horrible year for grimoire collectors – I was surprised when I looked at the output – and I hope that these publishers and booksellers are surviving and thriving in the uncertain time we face.

Palgrave Macmillan has put its paperbacks and e-books on sale, in a less impressive version of the sale last year, until December 1. Here’s my list of the best selections from last year – it does appear that more of their works have been published in paperback in the interim.

Treadwell’s has posted a fourth talk of mine – on Pennsylvania folk magic – in its subscriber lectures. Obtain a subscription, and you can view those and much more.

Enodia’s Faustian work A Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic (review here) is now available in paperback on Amazon.

Medieval magic scholar Jean-Patrice Boudet has a talk with Agostino Bagliani about their latest book from SISMEL here, for those lucky enough to speak French.

If you’d like to help me out or a publisher, think about buying one of my books for someone you care about. I’d particularly point to Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits as one that someone who enjoyed The Book of Oberon might also appreciate.

Published in: on November 29, 2020 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Book of the Wisdom of Apollonius of Tyana

If you’re like me, you probably heard the titles of magical books – the Key of Solomon, the Long-Lost Friend, the Book of St. Cyprian – well before you ever saw the texts themselves. We tend to define magical literature through the lens of their titles. This can be problematic, as it tends to lead us to the familiar and away from works that might be informative, fulfilling, and challenging to our preconceptions.

Thus, I can say that the worst part of The Book of Wisdom of Apollonius of Tyana, the latest work from Ioannis Marathakis, editor and translator of the Hygromanteia (my review here), is its lack of a subtitle. A potential buyer seeing the title on their Amazon feed is left to wonder if this is simply a book of vague philosophical pronouncements, possibly ancient, possibly modern. What the Book is, in fact, is a compilation of wonderful information on the significance of timing on rituals and a work on talismans attributed to one of the most famous magicians of antiquity.

Apollonius, the book’s putative author, was a first-century magician and philosopher who inspired many comparisons to Jesus over the years. Centuries after his life, he was credited with the creation of talismans to protect various municipalities from all manner of dangers. Centuries later – Marathakis lays out the considerable disputes over the dating of this work – the Book , providing the methods for enchanting similar talismans, appeared for aspiring magicians wishing to imitate his feats.

The differing Books of Wisdom that came down to us – Marathakis provides translations of both shorter and longer editions – deal mainly with timing based upon the hour and the season. Certain hours of the day and night are better suited to particular rituals, and the four winds, sun, earth, and moon have different names in the various seasons that should be employed. Those familiar with similar traditions in the Heptameron will find many parallels here.

The actual talismans to be crafted are in short supply in the Book, with only four examples and a procedure for crafting a magic mirror being provided. Readers will not be disappointed, as Marathakis provides us with a lengthy seventeenth-century treatise on talismans, also attributed to Apollonius and bearing some parallels to the earlier work. He also provides other works, ranging from the Testament of Adam to a medieval Latin book on magical hours, and concluding with Éliphas Lévi’s “Nuctameron,” his own translation of the Book of Wisdom with some dubious additions.

Marathakis provides the connective tissue for all of this through an extensive, carefully-reasoned, and well-footnoted introduction dealing with questions of origin, dating, and context. The book has a bibliography, but lacks an index – although the table of contents and organization is good enough that one can usually find a desired passage with little trouble.

I would ordinarily declare this one of my top books of the year – but upon examination of the record, 2020 has been a good year for those interested in historic magic, if not for much else. It’s definitely worth seeking out for anyone interested in talismans, Heptameron-style magic, or the history of Western magic.

Published in: on November 15, 2020 at 1:34 pm  Comments (2)  

Samhain Greetings, Redundant Spirit Rituals, Book Reviews, Treadwell’s, Acquisitions

A happy Halloween / Samhain to all of my readers! All is quiet here.

At this point, most of my project energy is pushing me away from the blog and toward the Book of Four Wizards. I’m currently working on an incantation of Bealphares, which is close to the version in Scot, but in (bad) Latin so it’s not likely a copy. Bealphares seems to be another of those spirits who inspired multiple traditions of magical rites devoted to him, yet without any particular emphasis on why summoning him (it?) is so desirable.

I haven’t made much progress on Newcomb’s Black Pullet, not due to any merit or deficiency of the text, but because it feels exhausting reading another version of the same book so close to my other review. I think I have another work in mind that should make readers happy, so I’ll move to that.

My latest Treadwell’s lecture is on the Necronomicon and all the weird things that happened after I co-wrote a book about it. It’s quite bizarre – and come to think of it, I even left out a great deal of blog drama that long-time readers will be familiar. It was a lot of fun to give.

I’ve had a paper accepted at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, to be held virtually next May.

Recent acquisitions here include Iafrate’s The Long Life of Magical Objects: A Study in the Solomonic Tradition, and Ellic Howe’s short book on Raphael, purchased because I keep referring back to it on various projects.

Stay safe, everyone.

Published in: on November 2, 2020 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

On the Dragon Rouge and Teitan Press Books

I found an interesting tidbit about some of the books published by Teitan Press, especially their edition of Le Dragon Rouge (review here). The item has probably gone under the radar of most Western occultists, who are unlikely to track down a $130 book on The Archangel Michael in Africa: History, Cult, and Persona. It has an interesting afterword by David Tibet, detailing his spiritual journey, which is worth quoting here:

At the same time, I continued to look into the works of John Dee and Francis Barrett and to research grimoires, including contributing to the translation, from the French, of the infamous – and doubtless unworkable – grimoire known as Le Dragon Rouge (2011).

He then goes into one of the footnotes on that text, noting that Joshua A. Wentworth is described as its “nineteenth-century editor.”

So it appears that David Tibet may have been one of the translators of the Teitan book – and given his lack of credit therein, it also raises the question as to whether he is the “Silens Manus” responsible for this book and others. I’ll let you know if I learn anything else.

Published in: on October 24, 2020 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Quick Self-Promotion

My blogging has dropped off lately, due to me attempting to work on a number of projects at once. It’s not too bad of a position in which to be, as I hope it will yield interesting pieces for all of you to consume later.

One such project is a virtual appearance at the “Rural Gothic: Samhain Surprise” event put on by the Folklore Podcast on October 31. I’ll be talking about the Book of Four Wizards, including its ties to fairies, ghosts, and the like. That, and six other wonderful talks, can be yours for only about $10 American – although it’s a British event and I’m not sure when it will start yet for those of us west of the Atlantic.

I’ll see if I can’t come up with a couple posts in the next week for my long-suffering readers.

Published in: on October 4, 2020 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  Comments (1)  

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)