Followup on Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells

I had a nice discussion in the comments with Frater A. P. regarding my review of Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells.  He’s been looking over Lecouteux’s translations in the book taken from Dr. Heinrich von Wlislocki’s Volksglaube und Volksbrauch der Siebenbürger Sachsen. What he’s found – and I’ve checked on some of his conclusions – is that there are some problems with the translations given in the book.  The seriousness of these discrepancies varies, but sometimes it extends to leaving out instructions – or even charm passages – from what’s presented in the book.  You can read his analysis here.

To be clear, my sympathies in cases of error are often on the side of the author. Mistakes creep into books quite easily.  After extensive work on Oberon, and level upon level of transcription, corrections, and proofing by multiple people, I once witnessed someone bring me their new copy, ask for a signature, open the book, and immediately catch an error. It happens.

That being said, I can share my impressions of the error. For me, it would be the sort of thing that would occur the first time copying a text.  Even if you’re confident that you’ve got it all, it’s still possible to make some major omissions from time to time when you miss a line or section.  I’m wondering if it’s what happened here, and it falls over the line of what I consider an acceptable error.

None of this is to diminish what Frater A. P. has discovered, which is an important and useful reminder that it’s important to vet sources, to double-check what we’re writing, and call out errors when we find them.  I’d suggest that anyone who wants to use Traditional Magic Spells to do their best to check the original sources if it matters for whatever work they are doing.

I’m interested on hearing others weigh in about what they think is appropriate.

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Published in: on February 20, 2018 at 7:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Forthcoming – Powwowing in Pennsylvania

Readers who are interested in folk magic, will definitely be keen on seeing the new book by Patrick Donmoyer, Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life.

I’m not saying this because Patrick and I are friends who have discussed writing, raided libraries, climbed mountains, haunted graveyards, and often cite each other. (Rarely has full disclosure of an author’s interests been so much fun to write.) It’s because it’s a lengthy, thorough, lavishly illustrated in color, well-researched, thoroughly footnoted yet accessible book detailing the folk magic beliefs, practices, lore, and texts of the Pennsylvania German people. I have read substantial parts of this book, and everything I have seen is absolutely wonderful.

On top of all that, it includes a translation of a classic powwowing book, Doctor Helfenstein’s Secrets of Sympathy, featuring all manner of folk remedies and charms. I have a serious problem with this, as clearly Patrick could have sold people this translation as a separate volume and nobody would have batted an eye. You’re just lucky to get it with everything else.

To sum up, Powwowing in Pennsylvania is a great work whether you’re just curious, or if you’re a full-fledged scholar of braucherei in Pennsylvania.

If you click on the link above, you can find the mail-in order form at the lower right. (Yes, I know it’s not electronic, but it’s definitely worth it.) The book was a little delayed on account of Patrick wanting to make it even better, If you’re still not convinced, or if you’re concerned as to when it will appear, Google Books already has a preview up.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 7:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Monsters from the Folger: Another Paper Available Online, and Reader Comments

A paper by James Clark, Joseph Peterson, and I, “He Appeareth Like a Monster,” that originally appeared in the journal Monsters and the Monstrous, is now posted to Academia.edu.

Yesterday I got a message from Tony, who asks regarding my review of Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells:

I was wondering if you could expand upon your review here with a few additional comments. I’m trying to find out if this book presents any never-before-seen grimoiric content. Things such as alternate versions of talismans or seals from Solomonic material or similar… I’m trying to see more of the positive notes from your review but it seems like the book simply a pick n’ mix of folk magic- more of an ‘encyclopedia’ of his favorite mentions of healing from disparate sources. What, if anything makes this book uniquely valuable?

Tony is the sort of reader I like: he mostly answers his own question. The book does not contain many talismans or seals, so I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out for those.

I would add that many grimoires do contain operations that we might define to the popular idea of “folk magic,” and that Lecouteux’s book of “favorite mentions” on just about any topic will be broad-ranging and of great interest to a lot of people. Nonetheless, Tony, I can’t talk you into liking a book. (You might try Lecouteux’s The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets instead, though.)

Sarah asked a question earlier about Enodia Press’s shipping times.  I responded:

I’ve ordered three books from Enodia, and each one has taken a while but arrived on time and in good shape. The tracking numbers provided by the Mexican post office are… aspirational, shall we say. The one for my first order claimed that it had not departed the local post office outside Mexico City up until the time that the book showed up in upstate New York.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask Enodia. I’ve been happy with their responsiveness and their product.

Please post any more comments you’d like to have answered!

 

 

Published in: on February 1, 2018 at 7:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Brief Notes for January

A few things to enjoy and/or look forward to:

  • I’ve uploaded my article from the Journal for the Academic Study of Magic, “The Role of Grimoires in the Conjure Tradition,” to my Academia.edu account. It’s almost ten years old, but it might be of interest.
  • Scarlet Imprint has opened pre-orders for its latest book, Jinn Sorcery by Rain al-Alim, which includes translations of rituals to summon these creatures from a private collection.
  • I’ll be taping Roejen Razorwire’s Project Archivist podcast on Sunday.  Topics will be grimoires, including the Simon Necronomicon.
  • The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall is hosting a conference on ritual magic in May.  If you can get there, it might be worth checking out.
  • My classic D&D group has just arrived in Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne, one of the settings in a classic module not to be named here.  It’s funny to go to D&D forums and hear people lament the fact that they can’t get the articles on Averoigne that Richard Becker and I wrote for Worlds of Cthulhu.
  • Finishing up our Iron Heroes campaign. I like what the system was aiming to do, but I’m not fond of the execution.
  • My other group has been playing Shadow of the Demon Lord, which I’d describe as an apocalyptic fantasy game like a simplified 5th D&D, but adding complexity by assigning each character three roles as they progress through their careers. Some elements of it seem rough around the edges, but we’re already planning another campaign.
  • The snake is handling the snow and ice well, by simply avoiding them.

 

Published in: on January 19, 2018 at 7:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Upcoming Releases on Faustian Magic, the Three Magi

Two brief notices on books worth watching for, and that are highly unlikely to show up in your local bookstore.

Enodia Press has announced the imminent release of its latest collection of ritual magic texts attributed to the infamous Faust.   Dr. Faust’s Greatest and Most Powerful Sea-Spirit is a compilation of three infamous works of magic that have been previously unpublished, along with a work from an unpublished manuscript. It takes a little more effort to order books from Enodia, but it has been consistently worth it for both their presentation and their unmatched contents.

Revelore is releasing a new book by Dr. Al Cummins: an exploration of the folklore, prayers, and spells that elaborate on the story of the Three Magi. A Book of the Magi promises to be excellent, and I’m looking forward to it.

Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 7:34 pm  Comments (5)  

Review: Touch Me Not!

In an age of stunning works of occult art, it bears remembering that much of the literature of ritual magic is largely bereft of these qualities. The goal of most such works was to record a magical procedure for later use, instead of creating a work that was aesthetically pleasing. Even the circles and characters on which they depended were drawn with varying degrees of care and accuracy.

We do have some exceptions, however, such as Wellcome 1766, the Compendium Rarissimum totius Artis Magicae, known better as Noli Me Tangere, or Touch Me Not.  It’s the source for many images of demonology and magic that have turned up increasingly online, such as the one below:

Dagol deals with rude customers with aplomb

Courtesy Wellcome Institute

Now, Fulgur Limited has brought us a stunning new edition of this manuscript, Touch Me Not!

The book itself is the size of a large art book, its black cover emblazoned with the title in red.  My copy arrived with some wear, but this was atypical and Fulgur quickly replaced it. (I gave my worn copy to a friend, telling him he’d be fine so long as he followed the instructions on the cover as I handed it to him.) Within we have a full facsimile of the manuscript, plus some of the more impressive plates repeated as part of the introduction. If you want a NSFW coffee table book of occult art that you can leave out to horrify guests, this would be most excellent for the purpose.

The contents are very good, as well.  After an introduction to the entire work, we get parallel texts, one the Latin and German original, the other an English translation. Throughout the text, Tilton and Cox note the sources from which the text was taken, including a German version of The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin, the Heptameron, the Magical Calendar, and the works of del Rio, Agrippa, and Trithemius. One interesting source is von Eckhartshausen’s Aufschlüsse zur Magie, published from 1788-92.  Thus, we can assign the text to the late eighteenth century at the earliest. This likely places it among a number of eighteenth-century magical works from Germany that were assembled from various sources for the collector’s market.

For those who are curious, this does not present a comprehensive work of magic, but a collection of various portions of rites, procedures involving various narcotics and incenses, instructions to locate treasure and to make a magical mirror, and admonitions to practitioners. Some of the material is of interest, especially that not presented before in English, but most of it seems to be dressing for the impressive illustrations.

Tilton’s introduction to Touch Me Not! provides insight into a number of different issues, including the origins of the text, the use of narcotics in magic, and the magical treasure-hunting of the time.  The work incorporates a bibliography, but not an index – although the inclusion of one would be debatable, given the length of the text.

It’s fair to say that the book will be of great interest to students and aficionados of occult art, as well as to collectors of handsome occult works. If you’re assembling a collection of works on ritual magic based upon textual content or influence, this might be a purchase for later – although waiting to purchase magical works from small presses often leads to disappointment…

 

 

 

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing

Oddly enough, despite his extensive catalog of works published through Inner Traditions, Professor Claude Lecouteux’s new releases get little attention. His latest work, Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing, didn’t show up in their catalog, and I only learned of it while exploring the shelves of the Union Square Barnes and Noble.  It’s likely many readers won’t hear of it, which is a shame. Lecouteux provides us with a marvelous excavation of the intellectual strata of magic, providing a wealth of spells and charms for these purposes. Yet the book is also a frustrating one in terms of organization.

traditional-magic-spells-for-protection-and-healing-9781620556214_hrIf you are interested in reading a collection of spells to protect and heal derived from magical traditions from across Europe, this certainly fits the bill. The format is very similar to that in The Book of Grimoires, although the coverage is much more broad. Frankly, I wish that Lecouteux had downplayed Pliny, given his availability in translation, but the bulk of material consists of remedies from medieval and early modern manuscripts and non-English works and journals dealing with folklore. The short commentaries vary in their usefulness for me and seem spotty in nature, but I think less specialized readers will find them welcome.

In terms of its content, this book is wonderful. As for its organization, it leaves me completely baffled as to why it was arranged as it was.  We begin with magical methods of diagnosis, followed by a lengthy section giving the cures for various ailments in alphabetical order.  Initially each section appears to be arranged chronologically from the earliest charms to the latest, but this breaks down in some of the longer sections. We even have a section for dealing with spells that heal multiple ailments – although not all the spells that do so are included in this section.

The next chapter deals with protections against evil spells, the Evil Eye, and witchcraft. Next come compilations of charms against demons, and then against fairies, trolls, and other such spirits – although remedies for demons are mixed in with them. Then we return to healing, this time for animals – although I’ve found charms to cure animals in previous sections – and finally to ways of warding off natural disasters, ghosts (who are distinguished from other spirits), witchcraft, and other dangers.

All of this is followed with a curious series of appendices: a brief work on healing by Saint Bernardine of Siena; descriptions of the deeds of sorcerers by Bernard Gui and Cyrano de Bergerac (a passage I read as satiric); a brief section on encrypted and enciphered spells; an untranslated page on healing from the works of Jean Fernel; procedures for making a man impotent; a list of French and Belgian saints and the afflictions they cure, and a few pages of talismans attributed to Apollonius of Tyana.  I won’t say that these are unconnected with the text, but why exactly this particular selection of topics was chosen as appendices is not always clear. Overall, it’s hard to come up with reasons why this book would have taken the form it did.

If you’ve got a book as I’ve just described, what will really pull it together is a good, comprehensive index that can make the contents available howsoever they are organized. This one… is not so great.  In many cases it simply covers the categories already present, without detailing other appearances of the same topic elsewhere.

This is not to say that this is an unwelcome book.  The material collected within is great, the bibliography is an amazing resources, and a casual reader will be very happy with it. If you’re working on any projects on spells like this, you’ll probably also want it – but you’ll likely find problematic if you want to find anything in particular, or if you start asking yourself why “Anthrax” and “Charbon (Anthrax)” are two different headings, for instance. Nonetheless, unless you’ve spent a great deal of time building a magical library and are a master of several languages, you probably don’t have a collection like this.

Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm  Comments (7)  

Necronomicon Files Banned in Texas Prisons

The Dallas Morning News just published a story on a lengthy list of permitted and banned books maintained by penal system in Texas. It features a searchable index of all the books that inmates are not allowed to own.

Being curious as to whether our friend Simon’s books are on it, I ran a quick search – only to find that The Necronomicon Files is on the list!  I’m guessing this is because of one particular piece of art in the book that includes nudity.  As it happens, so is my edition of The Long-Lost Friend

As for Simon? Texas really likes his works. You can check the downloadable list of permitted books in the spreadsheet just above the search box. The Necronomicon Spellbook is listed twice, and, depending upon how you interpret some of the vague entries, Simon’s Necronomicon has been approved between three and five different times.  Even though I don’t particularly care for Simon and his works, I think that he has a perfect right to have them appear.

Other approved works include those of friends of the blog Joshua Free and Kenneth Hite, as are the Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green RPGs. Oh, yes, and the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is free to own.

The list possesses some strange elements. First, some purely academic works on magic, such as Ankarloo and Clark’s Witchcraft and Magic in Europe series, and Seligmann’s Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, aren’t on the list. Second, there are plenty of works on magic on the approved list – run a search for “magic” or “charm” in that spreadsheet – that are probably similar in content to the Friend.

Oh yes – and Neo-Nazi and white supremacist works are perfectly fine.

The takeaway? Censorship is wrong, and its implementation leads people to make bizarre decisions, especially when it comes to works on the occult.

 

Published in: on December 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm  Comments (1)  

How Not to Critique a Book

A few months ago, I read Ronald Hutton’s book The Witch. I thought it was a pretty good survey of witch beliefs across history and geography, with some chapters on aspects of early modern British witchcraft, including its linkage with fairies, Celtic cultures, and animals.  It never becomes a thick description of any one of these issues, which makes it less useful for the sort of research I’m doing right now, but it isn’t general enough to make it a casual read.  I also wonder why certain resources, such as ethnographies and fairy magic sources, didn’t get used to the extent they could have.

There is, however, a wrong way to critique a book. Let me give you an example from Peter Grey, Alkistis Dimech, and Gordon White, on a recent Runesoup podcast:

Now, it’s sometimes hard to be precise and accurate when talking off the top of one’s head, and Gordon admitted he hadn’t read the whole book. I really do like and appreciate the work that all of these people do. I understand if they don’t like all aspects of Hutton’s work or approach, and there may very well be a time when his perspective is overturned by future discoveries.

…except that the description sounds as if Hutton is using The Witch as an opportunity to denigrate twenty-something witches and advocating a happy watered-down polite neighborhood Neopaganism which believes in the threefold law, which has no relation to the substance of the book.  If you doubt that, you can search it in Google for any keywords you like. Thus, it’s really unclear as to how Hutton’s own spirituality might compromise the book..

It’s a dangerous road for publishers to go down. After all, if Peter Grey can tell you not to buy The Witch based on content not in it, others could say whatever they want about Scarlet Imprint’s Jinn Sorcery and make arguments against buying it.  And that would be a shame, because I think it sounds like a really great book that I’m looking forward to. There are enough mistakes and incorrect information floating around out there, without adding to them with carelessness.

Published in: on November 18, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Update on the Newberry Book of Magical Charms

Do you recall the news that the Newberry Library in Chicago was transcribing a seventeenth-century British book of spells? I certainly do, because everyone in the world told me about it.

The Chicago Tribune brings us an update, with the usual fake scares and cheesiness, emphasizing just how successful this project was. The entire work has now been transcribed and translated, with a JSON file version available of the entire text.

We can hope that other libraries with similar books might see the success and good publicity from this project and provide us with similar opportunities very soon.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment