Recent (Or Not So Much) Releases

I’m happy to announce that we’ve had a couple of important grimoire releases that – in what may come as a shock to Papers readers – I have not actually found the time to read.

First, there’s Joe Peterson’s edition of the Liber Iuratus, or the Sworn Book of Honorius , the high medieval book of magic which features as its centerpiece a mystical procedure to gain a vision of god.  For those who were wondering if it expands upon the version on Peterson’s website – yes, it certainly does, with much material going beyond what’s on the website.  For those who wonder if the Latin is translated, the work has parallel Latin and English texts, which is definitely more than I expected.  I’m making a slow go of it – long segments of voces magicae have that effect – but any review I write would be simply, “This is wonderful,” so I don’t really feel compelled to expand upon that.

Another item that’s been out for longer is Claire Fanger and Nicholas Watson’s critical edition of John of Morigny’s Liber florum celestis doctrine:  The Flowers of Heavenly Teaching.  This is the fourteenth-century monk’s reinterpretation of the Ars Notoria, which in turn is the most complex version of the “God, please get me through this test!” prayer ever  created.  Although the price tag and the Latin text might scare off potential purchasers, it is a comprehensive and scholarly work and another step on the path to make critical editions of many key magical texts available.

That also reminds me that Claire Fanger’s book-length commentary, Rewriting Magic:  An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk, was released well before that last book.  It deals with her own encounters and explorations with the book, as well as with the figure of John of Morigny.  It also makes it clear that we have much to learn about the Liber florum – especially with regard to the diagrams omitted from all the known copies.  As with other PSU books, there’s a cheaper e-book option that curious but cost-conscious consumers could consider.

Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: The Magical Adventures of Mary Parish

I was asked to review the new book from Frances Timbers, The Magical Adventures of Mary Parish: The Occult World of Seventeenth-Century London for another publication.   Given the space provided, I couldn’t cover the book to the extent that I’d wish, so I want to continue that discussion here.

To bring everyone up to speed, Mary Parish was a seventeenth-century cunning woman engaged in the usual activities of that profession – detecting thieves, healing maladies, and hunting treasure.  Despite her talent at her vocation, Parish would have sunk into obscurity save for her meeting a former (and future) member of Parliament and the disreputable scion of a noble line – Goodwin Wharton.  Wharton became her patron, then her friend, and then her lover.  According to Mary, this was a fruitful union, yielding over a hundred pregnancies, although Goodwin would only meet one of his children.

Their partnership, both professional and personal, was based upon a series of spiritual encounters with ghosts, fairies, demons, and angels.  Parish served as a medium, and Wharton rarely witnessed anything without her present, save for a series of divine visions that happened later in his career.   He was a careful chronicler nonetheless, writing over half a million words on his spiritual encounters that he could pass on to his first-born – and likely imaginary – son, Peregrine.

As you can tell, this situation poses some problems for anyone who wants to write about Mary Parish’s life.  Almost everything we know about her is filtered through the writings of Goodwin Wharton.  Given that Mary seems to have been fabricating and exaggerating to some extent, and that Wharton might not have been the most objective observer of the situation, we have serious problems for any biographer.  The first attempt was made by J. Kent Clark in his biography Goodwin Wharton, and next, over thirty years later, is Timbers’ book.

It’s difficult to be able for me to talk about this book, for a few different reasons.  First, I feel it’s unfair because I have not read Wharton’s length treatises on the topic.  Second, there’s a great deal that I agree with in the presentation of this book.  The troubling aspects of her approach are the nuanced ones, and part of that might come from my perspectives on dealing with people who are not entirely on the up-and-up.  Mary Parish certainly wasn’t.  Even an account written by the man who loved her  couldn’t make her appear that way.

Timbers and I both agree that Mary Parish’s story, which is questionable not just for its supernatural arguments but also for its frequent oscillations between great fortune and misfortune, may be treated as narrative.  The bulk of the book, however, does not take this approach, instead concentrating upon the historical basis and context for the incidents she discusses.  This approach can be insightful, but if not combined with reminders that it is based on a second-hand narrative or extensive footnotes, it can lead the reader to conclude that much of it is validated, when in fact we have no one’s word but Mary’s that much of it occurred.

This is particularly a shame because I feel there’s a great book lurking here that does deal with the narrative of Mary Parish – an intelligent, independent, and resourceful woman living at a time when such women had to find creative ways to work within a patriarchal system.  Mary’s tale of her life, with its powerful men, mysterious magic, and numerous phantasmal pregnancies, seems to take many concerns of Elizabethan women, especially those of the lower classes, and exaggerates them to what would be a parody if not for the pathos lurking behind them.  That’s a book that I am unequipped to write, but I would love to read.

I would also argue against Timbers’ key assertion – which is also partially held by Clark – that this arrangement was a beneficial one because it gave Wharton a positive worldview and led to his reconciliation with his father.  I think it is quite likely that genuine affection did spring up between Mary and Goodwin.  Nonetheless, I find it hard to argue that a belief system that kept Goodwin impoverished and isolated from society, spending weeks waiting in the middle of nowhere for the Queen of Fairies, or commissioning a ship to sail out based on technologies promised by angels who failed to deliver in the middle of the ocean, was not a serious detriment to his physical, financial, and emotional health.  I do think it did have its good aspects, but these should be noted along with the problematic ones.

Overall, I think Timbers’ book does provide some interesting and thoughtful insights into Parish’s life and times.  One key piece of information, for example, is that multiple simultaneous pregnancies were not beyond the bounds of seventeenth-century medical thought.  Nonetheless, I would encourage anyone who wishes to read it to start with Clark’s book, which concentrates more on the substance of the diary, before beginning The Magical Adventures.




Published in: on May 12, 2016 at 2:36 pm  Comments (1)  

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 (2)  

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)  

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