Coming On-Line Radio Appearance

Lots of writing going on, just not here.

I’ll be appearing from 3-5 AM EDT (have fun, West Coast people!) this Saturday morning on Richard C. Hoagland’s “The Other Side of Midnight” program, on the Dark Matter Digital Network.  I could talk about Lovecraft, or grimoires, or something else entirely.  I don’t know if there’ll be call ins, but it should be fun.

Published in: on August 31, 2015 at 4:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spirits in the Library – Vassago

It’s been a while since our last post in this series, so let’s get to our next contestant on our examination of spirit dictionaries – Vassago.   Here’s what Mathers/Crowley had to say about him in the Goetia:

The Third Spirit is a Mighty Prince, being of the same nature as Agares. He is called Vassago. This Spirit is of a Good Nature, and his office is to declare things Past and to Come, and to discover all things Hid or Lost. And he governeth 26 Legions of Spirits, and this is his Seal.

Vassago shows up in a few other contexts, including other lists of spirits, the spirit scrying manuscripts of Frederick Hockley, and the serial killer villain in the movie Hideaway.  He’s a good example of a low-profile grimoire spirit who nonetheless appears in multiple contexts.

To begin with, we have nothing in Mack or Lurker, which is not horribly surprising.  He’s also not present in de Plancy, which is a bit more unexpected, although the Goetia hadn’t attained its preeminent position in Western grimoire literature until the following century.

Bane – A brief summary of his description in the Goetia, along with bibliographic references to both the Crowley Goetia and Peterson’s Lemegeton.

Belanger – Notes his appearance in the Goetia, including that of “Dr. Rudd,” as well as his lack of appearance in Wier and Scot.

Davison – Includes the Goetia, as well as references to Shah’s Secret Lore of Magic and Christian’s The History and Practice of Magic.

Gettings and Guiley – Little more than the information from the Goetia.

I’m somewhat disappointed in the coverage in all of these, I have to say.  Given how peripheral much of the material I was seeking is, though, I suppose I couldn’t be surprised.  Still, it bears noting that many of these sources don’t seem to include much beyond the Goetia.  It’s important to realize that these sources are not exactly comprehensive, or that they explore magical sources to any great extent on their own.  It just makes me appreciate matters more when they do.

My next post in the series will be the last, with a famous spirit rounding out our half dozen.


Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  

What’s Going On

I’ve got a few posts in the works, but I also wanted to talk about what’s going on at this end.

Right now, I’m doing some intensive work on Frederick Hockley’s associate George Graham (1784-1867), in preparation for a book that’s a few years down the road at least.  Graham is probably the best-known of the people in Hockley’s circle, but that’s because he and his wife were amateur balloonists who made a career out of flying up into the air and having disastrous adventures.

I’d love to see more evidence for Graham as an alchemist or astrologer or ritual magician – there’s a bit out there, such as his ownership for a short time of the Book of Oberon.  Still, there’s scads more on him as an aeronaut, especially newspaper stories from the Times of London and other sources.   It’s quite compelling, although it is quite distracting from blogging, answering comments and emails, etc.

I also did a small local workshop on witch bottles, based upon my upcoming article on the topic in my publication of Liverpool cunning man William Dawson Bellhouse’s manual.  While prepping, I found a good number of other articles that I’d have loved to have found about two years ago.  I’m documenting them and writing them up for my compendia of notes that I keep for a large number of published projects, in case I ever decide to return and expand them.

I haven’t written much for Call of Cthulhu lately, although I’ve got a good amount of material still waiting to come out.  I can give a few reasons for this:

1)  My reluctance to continue to engage what has become a Kickstarter-obsessed culture among gamers and companies.  KS can give those who work with established companies or names great opportunities to finance projects.  Nonetheless, it also trades excitement and drama for predictable results, and it makes it more difficult to publish small-scale material that isn’t a huge spectacular campaign.

2)  My ambivalence about 7th edition.  This is a shame, because there are many aspects of the new game that I like.  Most of it comes down to my seething hatred of the new stat block.  From what I’ve read, this was adopted simply to allow easier comparisons between stats and skills – in short, situations that very rarely rear their heads in any game that I’ve run or scenario that I’ve read.  And I’ve read most of the non-monograph output from the game’s creation until very recently.

Some will say, “All you have to do is multiply the old numbers by five!”  There’s a lot of people who can’t do math in their head, and that creates a barrier to people using the older books.  That’s especially true as it creates situations where some numbers have to be multiplied by five and then divided by five.   I can do that, but I still find it annoying.

Also, it makes life more difficult for me and other authors.  Huge amounts of material, written by me and other people who have genuine love for the game, is now going to need to go through a great deal of work before it can ever be published so that someone can occasionally compare – what?  Strength and Martial Arts?  Spot Hidden and Dexterity?

It’s also problematic for editors.  I spent five minutes a few months ago trying to figure out the implications of an item that added 10 POW to a character’s stats.  Once I recognized that this would be 2 POW in the old system, things clicked into place, but I was bothered that I actually had to figure it out.

On top of all of this, there’s a reluctance to put in the time and effort to master a 400+ page system in all of its intricacies.  For players and Keepers, that’s not so bad, because you can just keep the parts you want and ignore the rest.  When you’re writing for the game, you don’t have that option.  I’ll probably do it eventually, but I won’t be happy about it.

3)  A general malaise regarding the Mythos and its use.  Example:  I picked up a recent product (which shall remain nameless), and I immediately encountered one of those cults that’s apparently been playing cards in a back room somewhere while languages changed, empires fell, and major faiths arose, doing nothing but awaiting the day when someone could steal an artifact and they could come forth to slay infidels in a white-hot rage.

After so many excellent scenarios with plausible, well-written villains, some authors still see cultists as simply being fanatical murderers.  It’s even sadder when you realize that these writers are only getting away with this because those cultists are people of color from Third World countries.  No one would believe that crowds of people from Islington or Sheboygan would run headlong at gun-toting investigators while waving knives, but plenty of readers accept it if those people are from Africa or India.   Those are the parts of Lovecraft’s legacy that we’re supposed to be ashamed of, remember?

I’m also feeling less of a desire to be a consultant on Mythos projects.  Keeping up with the gaming material alone is hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours each year, let alone fiction.  When you’re got enthusiasm, it’s fine, but it starts to become a chore otherwise.   After comparing that with the amount I usually get offered for consulting ($0), I’ve concluded that it’s much more fun reading newspaper articles about 19th century balloonists and writing something I hope to be paid for.

(Edit:  to be fair, I don’t ask for a fee for doing such work, but I also think a fair fee would be hardly enough to purchase any CoC materials.  I’d rather do something I really want to do at this stage.)

4)  The overall feeling that I want to be doing something different.   Don’t ask me what that means.  I just know I want to write creatively on topics other than the Mythos, but that relies on that blend of folklore and history and otherworldliness that Lovecraft carried off so well.  I’ve been exploring the genre of folk horror, and I’m finding much that appeals to me there, although at its worst it tends to recreate patterns similar to those I just discussed regarding marginalized peoples.

Wow.  I feel better now.

I hope you’re all having a great day.  If you have any opinions on the above, please leave them in the comments.



Published in: on August 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm  Comments (4)  

Spirits in the Library – Mephistopheles

For our fourth installment in our series (for the first three, see here), we’ll be looking at Mephistopheles.

Mephistopheles FaustMephistopheles is an unusual demon, insofar as his first appearance was in works of fiction based upon the life of the magician Georgius Sabellicus Faustus.  When grimoires began to be attributed to Faust, Mephistopheles followed along as one of the spirits with which magicians could make conduct and work.   At the same time, he’s accumulated an impressive list of appearances in the various incarnations of the Faust legend across many types of media.

Most of the books we discussed had entries on Mephistopheles, with the only exception being Mack.

Bane – Notes the fictional origins of the prince of demons, as well as his later inclusion into grimoires.  Oddly enough, then claims that certain aspects turn up in “medieval literature” (which would have predated its appearance).  A nice bibliography, as it mentions Butler’s Ritual Magic.

Belanger – This draws upon both the fictional and grimoire traditions, and is likely the most lucid of the entries.  It would have been nice to see it branch out into the figure’s uses in more than simply the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, however.

Davidson – A nice paragraph, listing both fictional and grimoire appearances, though not quite systematically.

de Plancy – Nothing more than a brief and purple description of the horrible effects he has on humans, followed with a reference to the Faust entry.

Gettings – One paragraph referring entirely to the fictional sources, with no mention of the grimoires.

Guiley – This entry covers both Mephistopheles in Faust and in the grimoires, moving back and forth between the two for reasons I have yet to determine.  Nonetheless, it does touch on both the fiction and the magic.

Lurker – A short paragraph, with a misleading statement that it was “the name of the devil in the literature of necromancy and magic in the late Middle Ages.”

On this one, I felt Bane did the best, followed by Belanger and Guiley.

Who’ll be next?  We’ll find out in a week!


Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Techniques of Solomonic Magic

A while ago, I reviewed Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, noting that it was the first published work based upon his dissertation on the topic of books of magic.  The second section, Techniques of Solomonic Magic, has just been released.

This particular work deals with the transition of magical texts, beginning with the magical papyri, leading to the key Greek magical text, the Hygromanteia, from the Byzantine world to Western Europe, where it transformed into the Clavicula Salomonis, or (Little) Key of Solomon, that has become the most famous of the grimoires.  It’s not a new hypothesis, but Skinner’s achievement here is to lay out the evidence thoroughly, by going through both works systematically to identify the commonalities among them.  Toward that end, we get sections on purification, magical circles, days and hours of operations, incense, techniques of evocation, spirits, angels, and all manner of other aspects of the books, with comprehensive comparisons of a wide range of manuscripts.  Skinner lays out the evidence for each of these in a detailed yet easy-to-understand manner.

In doing so, we uncover some surprising revelations.  For example, it becomes apparent that the pentacles of the planets that form so much a part of the Key were later additions from a Hebrew manuscript that presents symbolism much more intricate than what has survived in the editions commonly available today.

Nonetheless, the book is not quite as thorough as I would have liked.  One notable omission is a comparison of the actual prayers, invocations, and other religious texts used in the Hygromanteia and the Clavicula.  Even a cursory examination reveals that these are often quite divergent from each other.  If so, when did the change occur, and why?  Do the prayers and individuals that are referred to provide any clues as to the transmission route?  Such an examination has the potential to reveal a great deal about the sources and transmission of these books.

As with the previous volume in the series,  I also have serious qualms about the first theoretical section.  It’s likely best that I deal with them in a separate post, so I can lay out my arguments more thoroughly.

Nonetheless, the book is excellent in most respects, and it serves an important milestone in the history of the grimoire tradition.  Possibly just as valuable, Skinner’s in-depth research has provided an easily-accessible window into a great deal of the academic writing on the grimoire tradition that has not been available to general readers before.  This is a good book for anyone interested in the grimoire tradition, or practitioners who want a deeper understanding of the roots of particular practices in the genre.  The latter might also benefit from the Hygromanteia and the Veritable Key, of course, and I’d suggest those as purchases before moving on to this work.


Published in: on July 13, 2015 at 8:54 am  Comments (4)  

Spirits in the Library – Pazuzu

For the third part of our series (see parts 1 and 2) examining various works covering demonic entities, I’ll be looking at Pazuzu.

Louvre PazuzuA creation of the first millennium BC Assyrians, Pazuzu is the spirit of plague, cold, and evil winds.  He was generally shunned, but could also be called upon to scare off the female demon Lamashtu from small children.  (The tablet from the left, from the Louvre, shows Pazuzu overlooking Lamashtu in what is likely a protective manner.)  Recognition of Pazuzu seems to have died out in the Christian era – at least until The Exorcist made his curious locust-winged, scorpion-tailed, beaked, clawed appearance a cultural icon.

Part of my choice of Pazuzu was prompted by his position outside of traditional monotheism, save for his appearances in media.  So, what’s the verdict?

We do have some omissions.  de Plancy leaves him out, which is not surprising given how recently knowledge of Pazuzu came to us.  Gettings omits him as well.  Neither Belanger nor Davidson includes them in their works, although the introductions indicate that he doesn’t fall under the criteria set by either author.

Bane – A brief description of the demon, with notes as to his appearance and the rivalry with Lamashtu.  Some sources listed, none from Mesopotamian mythology.

Guiley – Information on his appearance, his rivalry with Lamashtu, and his role in The Exorcist.  Uses Black and Green’s Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia as a source.  Excellent.

Lurker – A very short section that covers the basics of the spirit’s appearance and portfolio, but no mention of Lamashtu.  Short and factually accurate.

Mack – Three pages on Pazuzu initially make this look good, but upon reading much of this is just filler text about other spirits.

This particular choice did fulfill the purpose I set out, which was to flush out the philosophies behind the books.  Mack was particularly disappointing, I have to say.  Other books I didn’t expect did an excellent job with him, while others left him on the wayside, disappointingly.

Who will be our next candidate?  We’ll find out soon…

Published in: on July 10, 2015 at 8:48 am  Comments (2)  

Review – Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon

The Ars Notoria was perhaps the most popular work of magic of the high Middle Ages.   At the time, one of the best ways to obtain money, fame, and status, for those not born with them, was through the clergy.  Joining their ranks meant pursuing study through the university system, first through the trivium of grammar, logic, rhetoric, then into the quadrivium of astronomy, music, arithmetic, and geometry, and finally mastering theology itself.  As one can imagine, this was a time-intensive task that many students sought to work their way through as quickly as possible.

Today, some of these individuals might take courses from a dubious online school or order credentials from a diploma mill.  Back in the day, they’d turn to the Ars Notoria, a collection of prayers and notae, or diagrams, purportedly the work of Solomon.  Through solitude, abstinence, and beseeching of God with the right prayers, one could obtain all of the desired knowledge on a particular topic in four months.

As the medieval curriculum fell from favor, so did the Ars Notoria.  In its first publication, by the Beringos Brothers or their pretenders, it was bundled together with the works of Agrippa, sans the diagrams that provided its name.  Robert Turner published it in English in 1657, and his translation has remained the standard for many years.  The manuscript tradition was still respected by some, including Papers favorite Frederick Hockley, who copied his own manuscript of the book from Turner’s work in 1839.   This manuscript has now been published by Teitan Press in their ongoing series of magical works from the collection of Hockley.

With me so far?

The best edition of the Ars Notoria is undoubtedly Julien Véronèse’s scholarly edition of the medieval manuscripts, but for many readers, this Latin text with French notes from an Italian publisher poses serious challenges.  What Teitan has presented for English readers is an accessible edition of the book with plenty of interesting data on its history.

This version of the Ars begins with an introduction by Alan Thorogood, covering in great detail the history of the book, from its possible origins to the text in front of us, detailing its many variations and evolutions.  All of this is excellent and certainly worth it for those who want to know more about this work.  This is followed by an article by Phil Cousins dealing with the 17th century publisher Robert Turner.  Even if you have a copy of the previous version of this piece from Elizabethan Magic (hey, that price has dropped considerably), you might want to check it out again.

We then have the bulk of the Ars Notoria itself, detailing the entire procedure for gaining in-depth knowledge.  The editor has been thorough, so you can look into the notes to see Hockley’s notes, the pagination from the manuscript and the Turner book, notes on discrepancies from the medieval works, and all manner of other items of interest.  A black and white reproduction of Hockley’s manuscript follows.  What none of this truly tells us is why Hockley copied this book, as he did so many others.  I’d love to find some sort of letter from him explaining what happened.

The appeal of this book for those interested in the history of magic is clear.  Practitioners should note that some of the prayers within can be used for obtaining eloquence, driving away wild animals, and performing other tasks that are outside the months-long operation itself. I should also add that the book provides web links to those who wish to see the original notae which graced these books before their publication.

Nonetheless, either group should beware the book’s grave warning:

For this oration is such a mystery, as King Solomon himself witnesseth, that a servant of his house having found this book by chance, and being too much overcome with wine in the company of a woman, he presumptuously read it; but before he had finished a part thereof, he was stricken dumb, blind, and lame, and his memory taken from him; so he continued to the day of his death.

Bear in mind, therefore, that the Ars Notoria is not to be read while drinking or – gasp! – around women.  (If you are a woman, I suppose you’ll just have to take your chances.)  Nonetheless, for those who can avoid such dangers, this is a welcome addition to the literature of magic and the burgeoning library of works derived from Hockley.

(Note: This is based upon a review copy of the book.)

Published in: on July 6, 2015 at 3:20 pm  Comments (1)  

New from Teitan Press – Hockley’s Ars Notoria

I have been remiss in announcing this, so readers will have to content themselves with the latest book from Teitan Press without the usual release week offers:

An important new edition of the “Ars Notoria,” the well-known mediaeval magical work (often termed a grimoire) that was designed to equip the practitioner with “knowledge of every science, of all arts and all learning … in other words everything that is within human capacity to know.” This Teitan Press edition is drawn from a manuscript by Frederick Hockley (1809-1885), which itself is based on the 1657 edition by Robert Turner. The volume begins with an Introduction by Alan Thorogood, in which he examines the history of the “Ars Notoria,” the different versions of the text, and the context in which Hockley prepared his manuscript version. This is followed by “The Philomath,” a significant 24 page biographical study (with bibliography) of Robert Turner, the original translator of the “Ars Notoria” and a major figure in post-Elizabethan British occultism, about whom little has been known until now. Then there is a complete transcription of Hockley’s manuscript of the “Ars Notoria,” edited with explanatory footnotes and in comparison with other versions of the text (including Turner’s and the Latin critical edition). The book ends with a 140 page facsimile of the original Hockley manuscript, printed on special coated paper that gives a photograph like quality to the reproduction.

I have a copy in hand, and I am quite impressed.  Review to follow.

Published in: on June 24, 2015 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Spirits in the Library – Baron

Last time in our Spirits in the Library series, we looked at various demonic dictionaries’ entries on Asmodeus.  This time, we present another such spirit – Baron.

Baron, Folger V.b.26.  Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron, Folger V.b.26. Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron’s a curious one, who floats around the edges of the grimoire tradition.  His most famous mentions come from the transcripts of the trial of Gilles de Rais, which describe him being offered human remains as what seems to have been a spontaneous “hey, why not?” gesture on the part of the (human) baron as part of his magical rituals.  Baron also shows up in the Book of Oberon, as well as a smattering of other sources around the edges.  I’ve selected him due to his status as an infamous but little-appearing spirit, which might test the thoroughness of the sources.

Having checked my sources, it seems I might have done far too well with this one.  The vast majority of our reference works have no mention of him whatsoever, even after I searched for variant spellings and for Gilles himself.  The only one who deals with him at all was de Plancy, who only gives a brief paragraph.

This one was a huge surprise.  Given the variety of selections, I was prepared for at least some of them to be missing Baron, but not for his near-complete absence.   He does receive attention in de Plancy (who I assume all these authors are examining) and Butler’s Ritual Magic, so he’s not completely out of left field.  I think some more examples might help us decide how all of them stack up.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm  Comments (3)  

Forthcoming – Icelandic Magic (The Galdrabok)

Joe Bloch pointed out to me that a translation of a classic Icelandic grimoire, the Galdrabók, is being reissued by Inner Traditions under the title Icelandic Magic early next year.  Here’s some information on the work:

Drawing directly from the actual surviving Icelandic books of magic, Stephen Flowers presents a complete system of magic based on Icelandic lore and magical practices from the 16th century onward. He explores the history of magic in Iceland in pagan and early Christian times and reveals specific practical techniques and ritual templates that readers can adapt to their unique purposes. Illustrating traditional Icelandic magical practices and the Icelanders’ attitudes toward them, he shares original translations of Icelandic folktales about famous magicians, such as the legend of Gray-Skin, and about legendary grimoires, such as the Galdrabók, the oldest and most complete book of its kind.

After initiating the reader into the grammar and symbols of Icelandic magic through history and lore, Flowers then presents an extensive catalog of actual spells and magical workings from the historical Icelandic books of magic. These examples provide ready-made forms for practical experimentation as well as an exemplary guide on how to create signs and symbols for more personalized magical work. The author also includes guidance on creating unique magical signs from the 100 mythic names of Odin, which he translates and interprets magically, and from Icelandic magical alphabets, symbols that connect Icelandic magic to the ancient runic tradition.

I don’t recall the pieces on the names of Odin and Icelandic magical alphabets, so this likely means the work has been revised again.  As such, it might be worth checking out even for those who own one of the two previous editions.

Published in: on June 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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