A Pennsylvania Adventure, or How a Cursed Mountain Took My Pants

This weekend, I spent some pleasant time visiting Patrick Donmoyer of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center.  I had suggested that we visit the Hexenkopf, that infamous hill associated with tales of witches and powwowing.

We headed out early, hoping to beat the promised three to five inches of snow, and followed winding roads through hilly landscape, past old stone churches and barns with hex signs.  We eventually met with the land’s owner – I didn’t agree to give his name here – and we headed back toward the Hexenkopf.

A massive windstorm came through years ago, toppling many of the trees in the forest.  The area is overgrown with grave vines and thorns,  and we were hard pressed to find a path through the undergrowth.  We soon realized that the Hexenkopf is not a single rock, but three different ridges that follow each other in succession.  We took some pictures and decided to ascend the center one.

Patrick is much more of a climber than I am, so he went out in front as I trailed behind, stepping more gingerly between the rocks.  Still, one of them proved to be too much of a stretch, and I heard a ripping sound.   Apparently I had managed to tear out the crotch of my jeans.  I was wearing a long coat, fortunately, so the tear was not immediately visible.  I decided to continue.

We eventually found a way up, winding around the side of the hill, and stood on the top.  I can say that any stories about people driving wagons up or having huge revels of witches are unlikely, based upon the limited space available on top.  All we found was a small space, with three Yankee Candle Company “Strawberry” and “Mint” candles  that someone had left behind.  I would discourage people from doing that.

We came back down, and I prevailed upon the property owners to let me put on a spare set of pants.  We spent a few hours speaking with the owners about powwowing, charms, and other topics.  Afterward, we headed over to the Kutztown Area Historical Society, where I filled in more pieces in my knowledge of The Long-Lost Friend‘s publication history.

It was late, and Patrick and I went out for dinner with some of his friends, and afterward we stayed up late going through his massive collection of Pennsylvania German magical imprints.

In the morning, I found that the Hexenkopf’s curse continued.  The gap in my pants had admitted a bloodsucking guest onto my thigh.  I got some tweezers and removed the little guy.  (I’ve seen no lingering effects.)

We had a quick bagel sandwich and a discussion of “hex signs” in the morning, leading to the conclusion that the case for them being magical devices is even more tenuous than had been previously considered.  We finished up the next day with a trip to the Cultural Heritage Center to view more books and charms from the period.  Having done so, I said goodbye to Patrick and headed home, head filled with all manner of magical recipes and charms.




Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 2:01 pm  Comments (1)  

PSU Press Sale

Penn State Press is offering a discount for the remainder of this month (so, today and tomorrow) for people purchasing books off their website.  Typing in “APR30” will get you 30% off all books on the site, including their Magic in History series.

These books are not discounted on Amazon, so there’s a potential here for some savings.  I ordered a paperback just now, and while they do charge for shipping, the overall rates are less than what you find elsewhere.  It should be cheaper if you’re ordering hardbacks or multiple items.


Published in: on April 29, 2016 at 1:39 pm  Comments (3)  

Review: The Pauline Art of Solomon (Transcribed by Frederick Hockley)

Teitan Press was kind enough to send me a copy of their latest publication of a Hockley manuscript, The Pauline Art of Solomon.

In its most modern form, the Pauline Art is usually bundled with the other sections of the seventeenth-century compilation known as the Lemegeton, of which the most famous chapter is the Goetia.  The Pauline Art is, as with the Goetia, a list of spirits of various capacities and their seals.  These spirits relate to the hours of the day and night and the signs of the zodiac, and may be called upon to perform various tasks, as with other lists of spirits.

Hockley, the 19th century accountant, magician, and bibliophile, seems to have made this copy from an eighteenth-century source.  His copy preserves the original text, although he puts less effort into the actual seals.  The planetary seals in the first part are lightly drawn in pencil, and the talismans in the second part have not been filled into the circles at all.  It’s unlikely that this was a manuscript describing a practice in which Hockley actively engaged.

What really sets this edition above and beyond is the introduction by Alan Thorogood.  In his edition of the Lemegeton, Joseph Peterson did discuss the history behind the document briefly, but he doesn’t go into it at any length.  (Of course, he also had four other sections of the Lemegeton to cover, so that’s all right.)   Thorogood is always excellent, and he does an excellent job of putting the book into its historical context, describing its origins and how it came to be included in this broader collection of magical works.

I learned two fascinating items from this book.  First, the “Ars Paulina” was originally a title used for a book in Latin along the lines of the Ars Notoria, a set of prayers and exercises used to provide the user with eloquence.  I had not heard of this before, and it brings home the important point that a historical document that gives the title of a book might not refer to the book of the same title known in our era.

Second, many of the angel names in the Ars Paulina are derived from a seventeenth-century work by a parish priest named Jean Belot.  Due to confusion about the Hebrew characters to be published in Belot’s work, many of the angelic names provided in the Pauline Art are not correct according to what they should be.  Thorogood provides not only the names in Hockley’s manuscript, but the corrected versions that have not been published up until now.

Given that Joe Peterson has put an earlier manuscript version of the Ars Paulina online, this might not appeal to those trying to build a cheap grimoire collection.  It would appeal to those interested in Hockley and his magical knowledge, the background of the Lemegeton, or the history of the grimoire tradition.  Teitan’s releases also seem to increase in value after they sold out, so they are an attractive and valuable addition to a library.

Published in: on April 29, 2016 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book of Magic from Frances G. Irwin

A while ago, Caduceus Books advertised a new work with the title Book of Magic from the library of the magician and soldier Major Francis G. Irwin.  I ordered the book when the subscriptions were open, and as they’re now closed, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to find a copy of it save on the second-hand market.  That’s a shame, because it is quite an interesting book that documents some of the aspects of 19th century magic in the time between Francis Barrett and MacGregor Mathers.

(Full disclosure: I’ve published one book through Caduceus, and we’re also working on some other projects.)

The book seems to have been in the library of Henry Irwin, the son of the Major, a promising student who died of a drug overdose in 1879.  His father added the book to his library and included a bookplate that commemorated his son’s passing.  It later passed through the library of Frederick L. Gardner.  The whereabouts of the manuscript are unknown, largely because I haven’t asked Ben about them.

There are some beautiful pictures of the book at the title link above, so all I can say is that it definitely lives up to them.  What I’d like to talk about is the significance of the work, for those who might not have access to it.

The Book of Magic is a document describing the rites and lore relating to the group called the “Fratres Lucis” or the (appropriate for the time) “Order of the Swastika.”  The group, which included such individuals as the Irwins, Kenneth Mackenzie, and Frederick Hockley as members, is discussed in depth in Ellic Howe’s classic article “Fringe Freemasonry in England 1870-85“.  It does appear that there are other documents relating to the FL at Freemason’s Hall, but none of them correspond to the details of this one.

And what are those details?  This does not seem to be a systematic manual for the rituals, instead interspersing admonitions to the aspiring magician, notes on the theory of magic, and techniques of talismanic magic, mirror scrying, and mesmerism.  It includes references to the occultism from the period – a quick reference to the discovery of Uranus, the techniques of Mesmer becoming part of the magical repertoire, and Éliphas Lévi’s interpretation of the one-point-up versus two-point-up pentagram.  Some of the material, such as the forms of the spirits of the sun, is derived from the Fourth Book of Agrippa.  We also have references to a supposed late eighteenth-century French order, supposedly including Pasqually, St Germain, and Caglistro, who seemed intend in calling up the spirit of Templar head Jacques de Molay.  (It should be noted that the “ghost” explanation given for the charges of spitting on the cross and other blasphemies here is different from the one we now know to have occurred.)

If anyone has any other questions about the book, feel free to put them in the comments.

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 12:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Just Released – The Pauline Art of Solomon

The Teitan Press has just released the latest in its series of manuscript facsimiles from the nineteenth-century occultist Frederick Hockley.  This one, The Pauline Art of Solomon, features one of the key segments of the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key of Solomon, along with an introduction from Alan Thorogood on the book’s history and origins.  I always appreciate Alan’s take on these things, so I’m looking forward to this one.

If you order the book this week, you’ll get it at a discounted price, plus the first 100 purchasers, you’ll receive a bookplate with the author’s signature.

Published in: on April 11, 2016 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Review -Ars Notoria Sive Flores Aurei

Last year, we discussed the new edition of the Teitan Press edition of the Ars Notoria, an English translation of the classic work of medieval ritual magic.  One of the aspects of these, as well as many other published editions, is the lack of the original illustrations.  Given that meditation on these symbols were a key part of the Ars Notoria process to master knowledge, this omits an important aspect of all these manuscripts.

If you’re interested in seeing a book that displays such images, you might be interested in Palatino Press’ edition of the Ars Notoria.  This is a full-color facsimile of a short thirteen-century manuscript kept at the Beinecke Library at Yale, Mellon MS. 1.  It bears noting that all of these scans are available on the Beinecke’s website, in case you simply want to view the images.

It also bears mentioning that the book contains no translation of the Latin text, or more than half a page of notes on the text.  Nonetheless, the Palatino Press edition is available for only ten dollars, which makes the book quite affordable.  It’s hardly an indispensable addition to a grimoire collection, but I was satisfied with the purchase even given all of the above.

Published in: on March 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Festooned with Fairies

I’ve been accepted as a presenter at the Scientiae: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern conference at Oxford in July.  My presentation will be an expansion of my talk at the Esoteric Book Conference, just with the scholarship being more overt, and covering more ground.

When I say “more ground,” I mean comprehensively surveying as many of the known manuscripts dealing with fairy magic as possible.  There are brief references in various scholarly works, so I’ve been striving to follow up on as many as possible.  Fortunately, acquiring digital copies of books is quite easy; the staff at the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian have been most helpful, as has Joe Peterson.  In case you’re wondering, scans of the microfilm are usually under $100, although you still have to deal with Latin passages, early modern script, and messy handwriting.  After all this, I have retrieved over a dozen magical manuscripts to which I’ve found references.

So far, I can say the following:

First, my hypothesis stated at the Esoteric Book Conference – that magic that involves fairies, or similar spirits, has some traits different from the calls to demons or other spirits – seems to be borne out so far.  Crudely put, the magician’s approach seems to assume more equality, whether through words or ritual actions that mime those between humans, than the exorcist conjurations of demons via divine dominance, and more likely to incorporate aspects of the landscape as important elements.  I hope my language above indicates that this is more of a continuum than a division; many rites, especially those devoted to Oberion, are much closer to the exorcistic model, for instance.  I’m still transcribing, so I hope there’s more interesting material to come.

Second, by sheer luck the selection of The Book of Oberon for publication has made the largest discovered collection of early modern rituals aimed to invoke the Fair Folk available.  This does not mean that is comprehensive, as I’m finding many other examples, but it’s turned out to be a great source.

I’ve also been reading up on the scholarly literature on fairies.  I’m enjoying Diane Purkiss’ At the Bottom of the Garden (apparently out of print, but also available under the title Troublesome Things) and using it to track back other contemporary references to fairies.  There are a great deal of pamphlets in Early English Books Online that speak to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century interest in these creatures.  Nonetheless, there are huge gaps in what we know about them, simply because the elite and learned did not write much about them until later.  If it hadn’t been for Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth, I think a great deal of lore would have been lost – even if, I hasten to add, Kirk was writing from a particular perspective in a particular place and time.

On my own, I’m also chugging away on collecting material on a few different topics – the table ritual, witch bottles, and wax images in particular.  All of these already appear in published or soon-to-be-published places, but I want to have all the material in place so I can one day rewrite them to be even more impressive.  I can dream, right?

No RPG writing is going on right now.  This summer will pick up, I think, with some work on the Delta Green supplement Falling Towers.  Right now, I’m simply enjoying running a game or two (D&D Rules Cyclopedia) and playing in two (D&D 5th edition, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire).

And the snake seems more healthy, even if she does seem to be going through a mid-winter fast – if this long bout of high temperatures constitutes a winter in upstate New York.

Published in: on March 15, 2016 at 8:20 pm  Comments (8)  

Review – Powwowing in Pennsylvania

I want110ed to share with you a small gem of a publication that I picked up at a recent event at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center.  They were holding a day conference dealing with powwowing and other forms of folk healing, featuring scholarly presentations, a lunch (do not get between Pennsylvania Germans and their chicken pot pie!), and this booklet.  The mini-conference was associated with an exhibition of written works and artifacts associated with powwow.  For $20 plus gas, it was a bargain. I somehow convinced three of my friends to go down with me.

Even if you weren’t able to make it, the conference booklet, Powwowing in Pennsylvania:  Healing, Cosmology, & Tradition in the Dutch Country, is a real treat.  Written by Patrick Donmoyer, the editor of Hohman’s The Friend in Need (review) and author of Hex Signs (review), the book discusses the evidence of powwowing – whether oral, written, or in artefact form – and the ideology that underlies it.  The text is both readable and has an extensive number of footnotes, so it will be a good guide to the topic written by an expert steeped in the topic.

What really catches one’s attention, though, are the large number of photographs in the book.  The cover, which you’ll see to the left, is one of the few pieces of photographic evidence of a historic powwowing ritual being performed.  I’ve attached more examples below of the many illustrations in the book, including printed and handwritten manuscripts, hand-composed charms, and material culture related to powwowing.  Most of it comes from regional or private collections, so you’ll be seeing items that you probably won’t be seeing unless you make a trek to rural Pennsylvania.

Finally, there’s the matter of price.  It’s a 40-page book with great information and amazing illustrations that you can only get by calling the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center and paying them $10, plus $3 shipping and handling (plus the rates for either of the Donmoyer books I mention above, which are definitely also worth the price).   For a little extra effort, you’ll get a book that is both informative and sure to be a collector’s item.  If you’re interested in powwowing or folk magic, it’s definitely worth it.



Powwowing 3

Powwowing 4

Published in: on March 7, 2016 at 10:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Reading the Comments

I do apologize for not answering comments more frequently.  Part of it is a function of having a smartphone; I see them come in, but by the time I sit down at a desktop, I’ve forgotten about them.  Let me see if I can make it up.

I’ll start with someone I feel less guilty about answering late.  Derek Nylander asks:

Hello, I was just wondering if anyone knew any information about Dr.Johnson or knew if there was some way to contact his family. The reason for this is that I am looking into the art of year walking and need some verification on a few questions of my own, thanks in advance.

For those who don’t know, the year walk, or Årsgång, is a Swedish ritual in which a person walks outside at midnight on New Year’s Eve and walks to the local churchyard as a method of divination or gaining power.  It was the focus for a popular indie mobile game a few years ago.  Given that this question was asked on January 6, I haven’t messed up too much by waiting to answer.

If Johnson’s family is anything like mine, they will either know nothing or insist you read them dinosaur encyclopedias.  A better way to work with this might be to seek out people from Sweden who might be able to access the sources in their language.  Also, Gårdbäck’s Trolldom contains a couple of pages on the topic that might be of use to you.

Danger Nick backwards asks:

Peterson has a Sworn Book on his web site is this going to be a new translation from the critical edition, or merely a re-edited version of his web version?

Oh, come on.  It’s Joe Peterson!  If you need more convincing than that, the Ibis Press site promises that this is “the complete Latin text, carefully checked against known manuscripts, and related texts in Latin, German, and English.”  And when it says the “complete Latin text,” I’m almost certain that it means “in translation.”  Joe’s website text is from the British manuscripts, and he’s said that the Latin contains more information.

Ian Dall brings up this point:

Recall Gustav Henningsens account of how Alonso de Salazar Frías, inquisitor of the Basque witch trials, tried out 22 alleged witch ointments, but to discover that they contained a variety of ingredients, none of them psychoactive.. The concept may have more to do with the magical salves of Apuleius Golden ass, or Martianus Capellas Marriage of Philology & Mercury, than anything recognizably medicinal.Of course, it has been a while since I read up on this: for all I know, these points have been refuted, or simply not valid for this discussion

I will simply note that Alonso de Salazar Frías is not mentioned in Hatsis’ book on witch ointments.  I’d be interested in hearing a response.

Finally, Shara says:

I had been enjoying your book reviews and I wanted to ask you if you had read Liana Saif’s new book The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy? It’s part of Palgrave’s Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic series and some of their books I find are a hit or miss with me. And with the price tag of $100 plus for the hardcover, I was hoping you would do a review of it so I would have a better idea if it’s worthy buying or if I am better off waiting for whenever they do a paperback release of it. As an aside, I heard that Liana Saif is working on translating the Arabic Ghayat al Hakim into English. If you could find a confirmation of this or more information about this, I would appreciate that.

Sorry, but I’m not intending to read Saif’s The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy any time soon.  Looking at the table of contents, most of it is discussions of the opinions of Bacon, Aquinas, Ficino, etc., and I don’t really want to read more about what they thought about magic than I already have.  I also prefer the grubbier side of ritual magic rather than the more astrologically-oriented material.  I’d much rather read Werewolf Histories, but I don’t think that’s happening any time soon.

I will say that I do own five books from the Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic series, and I’ve not regretted adding them to my library (some were gifts, which made it easier):

Dillinger’s Magical Treasure Hunting in Europe and North America (review)
Roper’s Charms, Charmers, and CharmingBever’s The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe
Butler’s Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic
Hutton’s Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery and Witchcraft in Christian Britain (a wonderful book that I’m reading right now)

The only one I’ve been somewhat disappointed in was Victorian Occultism, as it dealt mainly with magical lodges and not with the other Victorian magical material in which I’m more interested.  I can say that this line is of higher quality than some of the offerings from other academic publishers that put “magic” in the titles and blurbs of overpriced books that are mainly about astrology, witch trials, literature, spiritualism, etc.

Given that most of these have been out for a few years and only Bever seems to be in paperback, I’m not optimistic about Saif’s title appearing there. I’d suggest ordering it through your local library’s interlibrary loan service and checking it out before purchasing.

As for the Picatrix – Clifford Low pointed out a while ago that Saif was listed as doing so on the Palgrave site, and I was able to confirm that.  The notice is now gone, so I’m not sure what the status of that project might be. These days, I generally don’t put too much hope into any proposition until the publisher announces pre-orders.

That’s about all for now.  Keep the comments coming!  That is, unless you want me to send the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses to Africa.  You’re not getting it.

Published in: on March 2, 2016 at 9:57 pm  Comments (7)  

A Response to Hatsis on “The Witches’ Ointment”, Part 2

Now that we’re done with Part 1, let’s return to Hatsis’ piece.

We’ve become immersed in a discussion of whether the account of Abraham of Worms about the “flying ointment” in Abramelin was written closer to the fifteenth or  seventeenth century.  In his book, Hatsis claims that this account would be earlier, as someone from a later era would be reluctant to write about such an experience when the witch trials were in full swing.  I pointed out that the rest of Abramelin does include procedures to call up Satan, Leviathan, and other demons, so “Abraham” wasn’t too picky.

In response, Hatsis maintains that I’m misrepresenting attitudes toward these demons.  After all, Abramelin refers to these as “spirits” of a helpful nature, who were there to help the magician to do the work of God.  If this is the case, why should he fear prosecution?

It might surprise my readers to learn that I’ve read a good number of these books of magic.  The sort of rhetorical strategies that appear in Abramelin – that the magician is doing the work of the Almighty, that the “demons” are actually spirits, that these operations occur with the approval and help of God, angels, prophets, and other celestial beings, and that this book is enlightened, unlike other less savory works – are the same as those that appear in many other grimoires.  They were meant to convince the reader that this particular book was true and could be used without concern for one’s soul.  There’s no doubt many readers did believe them.

Nonetheless, an intelligent and knowledgeable contemporary would have seen these as unorthodox and heretical arguments that certainly would never have passed muster under the scrutiny of the authorities.  If using such rhetoric would allow someone to walk out of court, history would be devoid of prosecutions of ritual magicians and the burning of their works.  John of Morigny had a book that he said contained nothing but prayers dedicated to God and dictated to him by the Virgin Mary, and that work was condemned repeatedly and finally burned in public.  I don’t think John adding a section that advocated calling up Satan because the Prince of Darkness was hard-working would have helped his case.

Hatsis asks, “Why would ‘authorities obsessed with demonic conspiracies’ care about practitioners of angelically spiritual magic?”  This could be for any number of reasons, the most prominent of which being doubt that the spirits contacted were as angelic as they claimed.  Even John Dee and Edward Kelley, who conducted the most elaborate procedures for angelic magic of which we have records, expressed doubts about the characters of the spirits with whom they were speaking from time to time.

Further, even if we accept that creatures were angels, conjuring them raises serious theological questions.  From a contemporary theological perspective, angels were created by God to serve him.  Thus, a magician who summoned such a being could be seen as usurping divine prerogatives.   I would encourage Mr. Hatsis to explore these issues further in the literature on magic from this era.  If desired, I could see what might  be available in my files.

We then move into a question of how derivative the story in Abramelin might be.  Even after reading Hatsis’ points on the topic, I still believe that the core tale – that of a person utilizing a magical ointment to travel , while an observer notes that the person simply falls unconscious in the same place – remains intact, and could have been inspired by other sources from a later period.  Then again, I think this is a matter of how “original” one interprets the piece, so I can see how he reads it in the manner that he does.

Hatsis then devotes a section to asking me the question, ” If Tostado and Abraham were not referring to plant-based psychoactive medical ointments, what is Harms’ evidence for synthetic psychoactive medical ointments existing in the 15th century?  If not plant-based, what were they made of?”  I will simply note that his book mentions ergot and toad poison as two possible psychoactive ingredients, neither of which are plants.

This is not a simple matter of rhetoric, however.  As best I recall from The Witches’ Ointment, we do not seem to have a witch trial account that mentions any member of the Solanaceae family as an ingredient in such an ointment.  We do have secondary accounts that it was included – della Porta’s Magia naturalis might be one such example – but I’m wondering as to whether it appears in a court document or other trial account.   The closest that I could find in Hatsis’ book is a reference in one account to toad poison as an ingredient.  Perhaps I’m missing something.

That last point could be read as a debunking, although it’s not intended as such.  It does, however, indicate that here, as with the Abramelin section, we have a need to return to the original sources and engage them in order to determine the worth of this information.  This is the sort of inquiry in which I would encourage Hatsis and others interested in these issues to engage.



Published in: on February 18, 2016 at 6:50 pm  Comments (5)  

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