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  Leave a Comment  

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  

Spirits in the Library – Asmodeus

This is my first post in the new Spirits in the Library series, in which we examine eight different books on devils and demons to see how they cover particular topics.  You can find all the bibliographic information for these books in the link above.

Today, we’re going to look at Asmodeus, also known as Asmoday and any number of similar names.  The origin of his name is lost in Persian mythology, and he is perhaps best known for being chased away from some woman by burning fish guts in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit.  He also briefly speaks with Solomon in his Testament (details here, here, and here) and makes an occasional appearance in rabbinical lore.  He becomes prominent in the grimoires, with his most famous appearance coming with the three-headed form described in the Goetia and rendered in the Dictionnaire infernal.

So, what do we have?

Bane, Encyclopedia of Demons… Cultures:  Includes entries for Asmodai, Asmoday, Asmodeus, and Asmodeus Zavehe, which the author assures us are important divisions.  It would seem on first glance that Asmodai pertains to the figure from biblical and rabbinical literature and Asmoday to the grimoires, but there’s enough overlap in the material that it makes me wonder why she bothered.  Aside from the curious omission of the Testament, though, there’s a great deal of interesting material here, and the bibliographies for the entries are impressive.

Belanger, Dictionary of Demons – Most of this entry is based on Tobit and the Testament, with a few notes from Haggadah, Armadel, Goetia, and Abra-Melin.  No entry bibliography.

Davidson, A Dictionary of Angels – Brief references to material ranging from the Persian to the grimoires to fiction.  The entry bibliography isn’t great, but it’s not bad, either.

de Plancy, Dictionnaire infernal – A column devoted to him, including material from the Talmud, Tobit, Wierus, and other authorities.  It also notes a novelistic appearance, and that some believe that he is worshiped at a secret temple in Egypt.  There’s nothing about the Testament, but that’s not surprising given the date.  No bibliography.

Gettings, Dictionary of Demons – This one jumps around between ancient lore, the grimoires, fiction, and other sources, sentence by sentence, doing a fairly good job of tracking what comes from where.  Tobit is entirely omitted, but Barrett’s portrait from The Magus is included.  No entry bibliography.

Guiley, Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Guiley touches on the Persian roots, then spends a great deal of time detailing the stories from Tobit and the Testament.  A brief amount of grimoire material appears at the beginning and the end.  The bibliography is a mixed bag:  the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a non-Peterson Lemegeton, and something called The Book of Demons.

Lurker, Routledge Dictionary of Gods…Demons:  Given the broad scope of the book, we shouldn’t expect much out of it, and that’s what we get.  A discussion of the Persian name and the rabbinical literature that’s hardly longer than this sentence.  Also, it suggests some sort of link to Pazuzu with giving us absolutely no hint.  No entry bibliography.

Mack, A Field Guide to Demons – A long article, largely devoted to re-telling Tobit and stories from rabbinical lore.  The brief description at the beginning gives a description of him out of the Goetia, and the end states that he can be driven off by burning the innards of an unknown fish (although a species is given in the Testament, which is not examined).  No entry bibliography.

Note:  these books almost always synthesize information from different sources to make a composite entry which, in the case of an entity with thousands of years of history, might not accurately represent it at any time.  Almost all of these, for instance, cite the description of Asmodeus as a three-headed monster from the Goetia without actually noting that it comes from the Goetia, and therefore might have little relevance to anything from a later era.


Published in: on June 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm  Comments (1)  

A New Book of Oberon Discovery

I’ve got a few different posts I’d like to put up, but I’m at a conference and I think people are ordering takeout.  So, allow me to present a new discovery by my friend Clay.

From Flave Végèce René, Du fait de guerre, 1536:

vegece1 vegece2

From Folger MS. V.b.26:

orobas Annabath

I’ll be looking into this more later, but I wanted to make sure credit was received where it was due.

Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 8:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Esoteric Book Conference 2015 and NecronomiCon

I will, at long last, be attending the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle.  This year, it will be held on September 26 and 27, 2015.  I’ll be signing and speaking about The Book of Oberon in particular, but if you want to dip into The Long-Lost Friend as well, that’s fine by me.  There’s also a lot of great writers and artists on the docket for it.

Also, to set to rest some conflicting information, I will not be at NecronomiCon due to a family commitment.  Mom says that she’ll cut me out of the will if I don’t go.  (She doesn’t mean it, but she thought saying it would convince people to stop bugging me about NecronomiCon.)   Mom’s great.  Anyway, NecronomiCon was great fun last time, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s on the fence about going.

Published in: on May 23, 2015 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Spirits in the Library: A Series

It was about a month ago that a librarian friend of mine mentioned pursuing a research question on a particular demon.  This brought to my attention that there are many, many books out there that are presented as being comprehensive lists of spirits.
I thought it might be fun to examine them.  Before examining any at great length, I came up with a list of half a dozen particular entities.  By covering their treatment in each of these books, we might get a good idea as to what books might be best for the cost-conscious bibliophile or librarian.  It’s an unscientific process, to be sure, but I wanted to keep it fun.
Our contenders are as follows:
Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2012.
Belanger, Michelle A. The Dictionary of Demons : Names of the Damned. Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2010.
Collin de Plancy, J.-A.-S. Dictionnaire Infernal.  Paris: BH. Plon, 1863.
Davidson, Gustav. A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. New York: Free Press, 1967.
Gettings, Fred. Dictionary of Demons : A Guide to Demons and Demonologists in Occult Lore. North Pomfret, Vt.: Trafalgar Square Pub., 1988.
Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. New York: Facts On File : Checkmark Books, 2009.
Lurker, Manfred. Dictionary of gods and goddesses, devils and demons. London; New York: Routledge and K. Paul, 1987.
Mack, Carol K., and Dinah. Mack. A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1999.
Published in: on May 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology

For a while now, I’ve been interested in the Slender Man mythology, for reasons I’m at a loss to explain.  For the rare reader who has not experienced this yet, the premise is that a mysterious monster known as the “Slender Man,” a faceless figure wearing a suit, stalks unsuspecting individuals, eventually leading to their corruption or doom.   This is a grassroots Internet phenomenon, with many manifestations based around creative use of Photoshop or drawn-out Youtube storylines using shaky cameras and repurposed mannequins.  Nonetheless, it’s been fascinating to see how much love and attention has been put into a new “artificial mythology” a la the Cthulhu Mythos, which is similar in its creation out of the work of many authors referring to each others’ works.  Such feelings are  nonetheless tinged with tragedy, as two girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin blamed the entity for their attempts to murder one of their classmates.

I initially approached Shira Chess and Eric Newsom’s Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man, from Palgrave with some skepticism.  The immediate impetus for the book seems to have been the crime in Waukesha, as it is mentioned quite early therein.  As such, the fact that it was in print hardly six months thereafter is quite troubling, as it raises questions as to how deep any potential analysis really could be.  That the work is a print-on-demand work instead of a regular release from the publisher was also a potential red flag.  Nonetheless, I wanted to let the book speak for itself.

What I ended up with was an intriguing work on an ongoing tradition of digital folklore or fakelore, depending upon your view, that has gained international attention.  Chess and Newsom begin with a discussion of the history of the Slender Man, beginning with the Something Awful forum thread where he was spawned and moving through its creative manifestations in online fiction and videos.  Subsequent chapters deal with the connections between the Slender Man and other folkloric entities, the creation of an open-source mythology, and the digital forums in which stories are told and transformed as the tellers and the audience interact.  A final chapter discusses parodies and the less accepted portions of the mythology.

I would not consider myself to be a Slender Man expert, by any means, but I have followed Marble Hornets and dipped into the other blog and Youtube materials on the topic.   I was hoping that the book would expand upon this knowledge and indulge in some deeper reading of the works dealing with the Slender Man.  I was to be disappointed in this regard; although I did not feel that there were any significant gaps in coverage, I was hoping for a greater engagement with the source material, and it troubles me that this did not occur.

This does not mean that the book does not include analyses, many of which are quite fascinating in the ties they draw to the literature of folklore and performance.  At times, this does fall short, however.  One example is the discussion of the reaction of the fan community, which is mostly male, to the non-horror works about the Slender Man written by female authors.  The writers claim that this neglect is due to the gender of the fan fiction authors, but given that this material extends outside the generally accepted bounds of the horror genre, the case needs to be made more strongly.  A more interesting and likely productive analysis would be directed at the implications of a genre in which the protagonists are often white males in their twenties, running from a monster whose appearance parallels those of his victims.

This is not to say that this book is without merit.  For those who wish for an overview of the Slender Man myth and its position in the study of folklore, it is a valuable work, if expensive.  It is to be hoped that future works deepen the examination of this fictional creation and the community that creates and re-creates its myth.

Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Crowley and Tregeagle in Cornwall

In the folklore of Cornwall, two figures enjoy special infamy.  The first is a steward, spy, and magistrate from centuries ago, remade into a demon, a ghost, a giant, and a bird, among other identities.  The second is a man dubbed the “Wickedest Man in the World,” notable for both his virtues and vices.  I recently read a book on each of these individuals and their ties to Cornwall, and I wanted to share my thoughts on them.  Given that both are difficult to obtain, I hope this might send others to seek them out.

IMG_2271The first book, John Tregagle of Trevorder:  Man and Ghost by B. C. Spooner, was originally published in 1935.  An abbreviated form of it was later published as John Tregagle:  Alive or Dead.  Mr. Tregagle (c. 1606-1655) was a steward of the Lanhydrock estate, and later became an extensive landowner in his own right.  He sided with the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War, providing intelligence on the movement of the Royalist forces.  A lawsuit regarding a mortgage dispute garnered him a notorious reputation, which continued well after his death.

Following his death, a mythology grew up around John.  Supposedly a court case became so heated that Tregagle was called up from the dead to testify.  After this, however, he could not be sent back to hell, so he spent his time moving about the countryside, with the devil’s hounds snapping at his heels.  Various parsons moonlighting as wizards – a common feature in Cornish lore – assigned him to various tasks, such as emptying Dozmary Pool with a seashell with a hole, or spinning sand into a rope.  He has escaped these time and time again, causing storms and howling in remote places.  And these are only the more conventional tales.

Mentions of Tregagle are common in folklore works, but no book covers the historical background of the man as well as Spooner.  As such, this is an essential work for anyone interested in exploring more than the first layer of Cornish folklore.

A more recent insertion into the folk beliefs of Cornwall is the magician Aleister Crowley.  A tale of him hinges upon a cottage in the hills around the village of Zennor in West Penwith.  According to the story, Crowley was staying at this location when he became involved in a test of magical wills with Ka Arnold-Forster.  This conflict led to a confrontation one dark night that ended with her death and her husband’s insanity.

IMG_2270Paul Newman’s The Tregerthen Horror, released by Mandrake Press in 2005, represents the author’s attempt to decipher the truth behind the myth.  To do so, he spends a great deal of time describing D. H. Lawrence and other writers and artists who made their home in West Penwith in the early twentieth century.  There are wonderful portraits of many of these individuals, and much allusion to fictional accounts and folklore of the reason.  What is lacking, however, is any indication that Aleister Crowley came to Cornwall any earlier than a well-documented two-week trip to the Penzance area in 1937.  If I read it correctly, there seems to be no reason why Crowley couldn’t have come to West Penwith, but there’s no positive evidence that he did.

Nonetheless, I found The Tregerthen Horror to be quite aesthetically pleasing, and it should be of interest to those who collect the folklore of Crowley or who are interested in the circles of famous artists that one time made their home in Cornwall.

Published in: on May 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Forthcoming – Rewriting Magic

Claire Fanger, Assistant Professor of Religion at Rice University, has been working on the medieval monk John of Morigny’s re-interpretation of the Ars Notoria for quite some time now.  We now have a book-length work on the topic from Penn State Press’ excellent History in Magic series that should be of great interest:

In Rewriting Magic, Claire Fanger explores a fourteenth-century text called The Flowers of Heavenly Teaching. Written by a Benedictine monk named John of Morigny, the work all but disappeared from the historical record, and it is only now coming to light again in multiple versions and copies. While John’s book largely comprises an extended set of prayers for gaining knowledge, The Flowers of Heavenly Teaching is unusual among prayer books of its time because it includes a visionary autobiography with intimate information about the book’s inspiration and composition. Through the window of this record, we witness how John reconstructs and reconsecrates a condemned liturgy for knowledge acquisition: the ars notoria of Solomon. John’s work was the subject of intense criticism and public scandal, and his book was burned as heretical in 1323. The trauma of these experiences left its imprint on the book, but in unexpected and sometimes baffling ways. Fanger decodes this imprint even as she relays the narrative of how she learned to understand it. In engaging prose, she explores the twin processes of knowledge acquisition in John’s visionary autobiography and her own work of discovery as she reconstructed the background to his extraordinary book. Fanger’s approach to her subject exemplifies innovative historical inquiry, research, and methodology. Part theology, part historical anthropology, part biblio-memoir, Rewriting Magic relates a story that will have deep implications for the study of medieval life, monasticism, prayer, magic, and religion.

My copy of this book has just arrived.  For those who want to know more about the topic, I’d suggest reading Fanger’s chapter on the differences between the Ars Notoria and the monk’s book in Conjuring Spirits, as well as  John of Morigny’s preface to his book.


Published in: on April 29, 2015 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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