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 (2)  

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 (3)  

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)  

Life, The Book of Four Wizards, Fairy Magic, Traditional Witchcraft, Magic Bowls, and Gaming

Still in lockdown, even though the region has opened up slightly. I don’t have a lot of a faith in our ability to deal with the opening responsibly, especially over a holiday weekend.

I’m continuing work on The Book of Four Wizards. I’ve spent some time delving into the Eye of Abraham, the classic charm to detect theft by hammering a nail into a drawn eye while saying an incantation, in response to which the thief cries out or has their eye water. I’ve got at least seven different examples of various lengths and taken from different sources. I sometimes wonder whether this is an expression of antiquarian interest, or an attempt to acquire different versions to ensure efficacy through comparison.

I’ve recorded a talk on fairy magic for Treadwell’s lecture series, so keep an eye out for that.

In the comments, Michael Craft asked whether I might review a book dealing with traditional witchcraft. Speaking generally, I try to avoid literature that attempts to recreate traditional European folk practice. When I have tried to read a book, or listen to a podcast, or otherwise engage with this material, I often struggle, because I can see the seams between materials, the rhetorical flourishes covering up questions, the proposed ideas that solidify into certainties, the use of outdated sources, the anachronistic usage of later ideas, the lack of footnotes, etc. etc.

I’m not saying that people cannot get spiritual fulfillment out of these texts, or that others can’t admire a recombination of elements of the past and present done through a compelling narrative or inspiring poetry or resonating prose or magical exploration. Yet, at the same time, I prefer to focus on history in an attempt to understand it, not to evoke or interpret it, and much of that involves unlearning the fundamentals of what today’s occultism teaches and seeking works that provide a framework for doing so. That sort of process doesn’t really accommodate itself to writing reviews of modern works that are chiefly desirable to people who are seeking something else in their literature. We certainly have better reviewers for that.

(EDIT: Just to be clear, this isn’t aimed at particular authors or paths, among which there might be those engaged in careful, thoughtful examination of historical evidence and conscious and admitted reconstruction. Yet this isn’t the norm.)

For those who find it useful or interesting or spiritually compelling to read more historical material – or who just put up with all of the above – you might appreciate Dan Levene’s A Corpus of Magic Bowls, available cheaply through Lulu. My copy came slightly banged up, and I’m not sure whether the black and white photographs were plates in the original, but it’s certainly worth the price.

I’m wrapping up my long-term Rules Cyclopedia campaign in the next few months. Pendragon is going strong, and I’m running a potentially short-term weekly Dungeon Crawl Classics game for some colleagues and friends during the shutdown. I’ve been enjoying the latter, for what it’s worth. DCC publisher Goodman Games also published a good number of Cthulhu scenarios back in the day that I reviewed here over the years. I can see why them tapping their DCC authors to write them was never compelling to me, as the design goals of the two are diametrically opposed. This is more light yet deadly gonzo stuff, which is perfect for particular groups.

Stay safe and healthy, as always.


Published in: on May 24, 2020 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Book of Saint Cyprian (Bibliotheca Sufurina I)

The recent upsurge of Anglophone interest in the magical traditions surrounding St. Cyprian of Antioch has led to many fascinating translations of material from other languages (some of which I’ve reviewed here, here, and here). One that I missed reviewing on its initial release was Humberto Maggi’s edition of the Spanish Book of Saint Cyprian, attributed to Jonas Sufurino, from Nephilim Press. This was intended to be a trilogy, and it’s uncertain to me where the plans for the other two volumes are.

The book itself is quite attractive, bound in black with red highlights, including a small devil and a cloth bookmark. After a brief introduction that perhaps favors earlier Cyprianic material more than might be immediately relevant, we arrive at the text itself,  a translation of the 1920 edition from Barcelona’s Casa Editorial Maucci. (As typical, I’m not going to evaluate the translation here, due to a lack of time and expertise.)

As for the contents – I’ve been watching some episodes of Metalocalypse, and it’s that over-the-top heavy metal attitude toward the grimoires that best describes this book. Forget finding a grimoire in a monastery library or tomb – the monk Jonas Sufurino gets the book by calling on Satan, who delivers a self-translating version of Cyprian’s book dipped in the Lake of Red Dragons so it couldn’t be destroyed by any means. Speaking of the Red Dragon or Key of Solomon – while other works might content with these being somewhat metaphorical, this book of Cyprian states that both should be literal talismans, with the Red Dragon being the prized possession of Moses himself. This is the first book in which I’ve seen a robe with planetary symbols on it, like a stage magician, required as a key item of equipment.

Yet the compiler does display some degree of self-awareness in all of this. Chapters which are clearly later than the year 1001 are explained away as marginal comments which have nonetheless been included in the text. There are also occasional bits of levity, such as the flight spell that only works if the magician keeps their eyes closed and returns to the same spot.

Overall, the work is something of a late mashup of a number of different texts – the Grand Grimoire, the Key of Solomon, the Arbatel, the Old Man of the Pyramids, and other works. In some cases, the material is truncated – for example, only one talisman from the Key is given for each planet. Likewise, the Old Man of the Pyramids section jumps over most of the Napoleonic-inspired narrative, to our author-magician just visiting the Old Man because he hears he knows magic, and the Old Man dying very quickly to give away all his knowledge. On the other hand, the Grand Grimoire is expanded to provide a more comprehensive pact-like arrangement with Lucifer than the more treasure-hunting emphasis of the normal rite. The book concludes with a number of the usual rites for acquiring the magician’s desire by being cruel to animals.

Most of the presentation is relatively bare bones; it does not include an original Spanish text, extensive notes, a bibliography, or an index.

Thus, who is this book for? I’d say this is probably of interest to those interested in the Anglophone Cyprianic revival, folk magic enthusiasts and practitioners, and those who are interested in the transformations of ritual magic for new audiences. It’s not a great compilation of the magical texts listed above, due to their truncated nature in the work, but it does possess a fascinating charm all of its own.

 

Published in: on May 15, 2020 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oberon and Privacy, Podcasts, Hell Fire Update, and Various Methods of Divination

A happy Beltane or May Day, for those who celebrate either.

I presented on Folger V.b.26 (The Book of Oberon) at the University of Copenhagen Centre for Privacy Studies’ Practices of Privacy: Knowledge in the Making symposium. I’m looking forward to writing it up as an article and sharing it more broadly.

Along with my regular duties and avocations, I participated in a podcast on magical books for Treadwell’s, and a podcast on Averoigne for the People’s Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos. I hope to give you more links to other items soon.

Most of occult publishing seems to be on hold, due to the challenges of our present situation. If you do see an announcement of a publication in the grimoires field, please let me know in the comments.

About two weeks ago, Miskatonic Books posted that they will no longer be carrying books by the publisher Hell Fire Club. They don’t report having any trouble with HFC in their business arrangements, but they were becoming the focus for all of the queries from authors and purchasers who couldn’t get in touch with HFC themselves.

I have made considerable progress on Humberto Maggi’s translation of the Sufurino Cyprian, so that will likely be my next review.

I’ve spent some time working with a few items from Four Wizards – short rituals for divination using the psalter and key, the sieve and shears, and the bread and knives. I’ve yet to find good coverage for any of these – it’s more pulling together some mentions from different sources to see if I can figure out a general picture. Willy Braekman’s Middeleeuwse witte en zwarte magie in het Nederlands taalgebied (1997) is helpful, but it tends to concentrate on usage in the Netherlands. If anyone has seen a more comprehensive coverage of these with proper references, I’d love to hear about it.

Stay healthy, safe, and secure, everyone.

 

 

Published in: on May 1, 2020 at 7:59 pm  Comments (4)  

Staying at Home, Book of Four Wizards, Penn State Specials, New Esoteric Archives Documents

Still home, still well.

I wanted to make a few more comments on the last section of Douce 116 I talked about here – specifically the section on capturing animals using toxic substances – with regard to my previous discussion of Liber 420. Although one should be careful about extrapolating from a single example, I think this is compelling evidence that the reason that copyists were not omitting psychotropic substances from the grimoires because they were concerned about social censure.

I just finished the modernized version of the manuscript. Now comes a few enciphered passages, translations of the Latin, compiling the footnotes, writing the introduction, and probably making another trip in post-lockdown to the area I think it was composed to see what I can find. Nothing major, right?

If you’ve been thinking about getting some Penn State Magic in History books but balked at the price, this is a good time to check again. Some are unavailable, but others are available a bit cheaper. For example, Making Magic in Elizabethan England by  Frank Klaassen (my review here) has dropped to $19.99 in some e-book formats, which is very nice.

If you’re strapped and looking for new magical material, Joe Peterson comes through for us again. Mihai has collated his blog posts into a single document detailing The Book of the Seven Rings of the Planets of Messalah. He’s also got a new transcribed version – albeit in Latin – of the famous Key of Solomon version known as the Zecorbeni, taken from the Bodleian MS. Aubrey 24. This is particularly welcome to me, as I photographed the rest of that manuscript’s contents the last time I was at Oxford.

Once again, I hope you are well, safe, and secure.

 

 

Published in: on April 17, 2020 at 1:50 pm  Comments (2)  

Quick Stay-at-Home Update, Fishing Lore, and the Rings of Messalah

Still home and healthy.

I’m still working on Douce 116, The Book of Four Wizards. I’ve come to the section of the book that includes recipes for creating different sorts of fish bait, capturing birds, and the like. For those who are curious, this seems to be the section that is biggest on the incorporation of cannabis, belladonna, and other rites. I’d love to find the origin for this section, but I’m not optimistic; I can find some similar recipes, but nothing that serves as a template, or where I can find multiple examples in the same order. That might help me to narrow down the time frame of the original author, though, so I’ll give it a shot and see where it goes.

Mihai Vartejaru is working on a comparison of different manuscripts that contain a magical treatise called the Rings of Messalah, detailing rings to be made under the power of each planet. You can see this series on his blog.

Stay safe, everyone.

Published in: on April 4, 2020 at 12:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Update – COVID-19, Cypriana, Hadean, More Hadean, Ouroboros Special Offers

At this point, I am sequestered away from the world, an opportunity I sincerely hope all of you have been given. The future is unknown, but for now I am healthy, safe, and well-provisioned. May all of you be well, in all aspects of your life, in these uncertain times.

As a librarian, I should remind everyone to try to seek out reputable information in these times, and to refrain from sending on what is inaccurate.

Also, if you have ever found yourself saying, “I wish I had time to read these books / learn a language / write,” and you are secure enough to proceed with those plans, this might be the time. It’s hard to do those things when surrounded by stress, but it can also serve for a temporary escape.

I wish all of you the best, and I hope I will meet and speak with each one of you face to face someday when this is over.

Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 11:26 am  Comments (2)