Stealth NYC Trip, Fairies under the Elders, Online Manuscripts, Anti-Semitism in Magical Works

I made a quick trip to NYC to drop off a copy of the Bellhouse book at the NYPL. I didn’t schedule time to see others – just stopped at a couple of shops, grabbed some Middle Eastern food, and headed back upstate. I hope to visit again soon.

My article, “The Herb and the Lady under the Elder at Noon: Analysis of an Early Modern Magical Ritual,” has appeared in the fifth issue of The Enquiring Eye, the journal of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

I’ve found a few works of interest in the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland. This short copy of a book purporting to be Faust’s Höllenzwang might be the sort of thing Papers readers should like.

Phil Legard notes that the Lecouteux book I showed in the last post has some problematic content. Having looked at it, I can confirm one of the passages chosen has one anti-Semitic account which I’m not sure adds much to the work. Admittedly, even my own books do include statements from our early modern authors blaming the Jewish people unfairly, as many authors of the time did. I’m going to be doing my best to note such passages and their significances as I go forward.

The Precious Apothecary review will appear next week.

Published in: on June 13, 2021 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Clavis Goetica

I’m going to leap in the review queue slightly to handle a book sent to me for review: Clavis Goêtica: Keys to Chthonic Sorcery, by Frater Acher and José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal and published by Hadean. This is a review of the hardback, which is currently unavailable but will be re-released this summer. The softcover is currently available.

Frater Acher begins with a discussion of the significance and history of the concept of goetia, or “goeteia,” dealing with its roots in the Greek practice of the itinerant magicians and the goetes. He follows this with a mythic narrative of the interactions between the Idaean Dactyls, spirits and magicians responsible for teaching the civilized arts, the profundity and uncontrolled immensity of the Earth Mother. He then relates this to the appropriation of this energy by ritual magic practitioners, with the goetes serving as a bridge between the boundary-setting magicians and the primordial forces.

I respect the desire to innovate in magical practice, yet it should be said that some historians, including some whom Frater Acher quotes, would disagree with some of his points, including his characterization of “goeteia” as something of a floating term which did not necessarily point to a particular practice. Likewise, one might accept that the core of the practice described here is in personal spiritual gnosis, not in books – but we should also note Plato’s report of itinerant practitioners dealing with souls of the dead utilizing books attributed to Orpheus and Musaeus. None of this stands in the way of a basis of practice, but I’d suggest reading the works Frater Acher cites in this section if you want to get a better handle of the history.

Frater Acher touches on his modern practice of spirit contact within a cave in the Alps – although the spirits have not granted permission to share more than one early operation. He then turns to a discussion of those seeking interactions with spirits in medieval history, including one account from Cesarius of Heisterbach circa 1200, another attributed to the sixteenth-century Christian mystic Johannes Beer, and the Norse tradition of “sitting out” to contact spirits.

The centerpiece of the book, at least from my perspective, is the translation of the brief “Ars Phythonica” text from the Leipzig magical library, which provides two . Frater Acher postulates convincingly that the title is a corruption of “Ars Pythonica,” linking the text back to earlier traditions of female mediumship. He then proceeds to discuss various traditions of the use of skulls for the purposes of divination, ranging from the PGM to the Hygromanteia.

I think much of the material here is intriguing, and it might be worth pursing an expansion on both the seeking out of chthonic spirits and the use of skulls in magic. For example, Scurlock’s Magical Means of Dealing with Ghosts in Ancient Mesopotamia provides rituals for pitting the spirit of a skull against another for protective purposes. Another source not mentioned here is the Picatrix, which includes procedures similar to the folktale of the Maharil he describes.

Frater Acher concludes his analysis by highlighting one particular aspect of the Ars Phythonica:

…the first version further breaks down traditional magical patterns by actively calling upon the help of both celestial and chthonic hierarchies in a single conjuration… Such a deeply pragmatic approach – transcending the traditional polarity between theurgy and goêteia – highlights the essentially shamanic nature of this ritual… Such striking boldness and independence of spirit was just as rare during late medieval times as unfortunately remains today. (p. 125)

So, I was able to come up with three examples of mingled “celestial-chthonic” incantations from The Book of Oberon alone within ten minutes. It’s not necessarily common in rituals, but it’s not unheard of, and I don’t think Oberon is outstanding in this regard.

Overall, I’d be cautious about Frater Acher’s statements about what is “traditional” – traditional for whom? – or what is “shamanic,” or why we should necessarily put those two things in opposition. These labels say a great deal more about how contemporary authors and practitioners view medieval and early modern ritual magic, not to mention other spiritual tradtions, than its source material, which is weird and wonderful stuff filled with patterns that can be broken in exciting ways. Although I wouldn’t rule out that there are norms that some texts might transgress, I think that a broader look at the corpus would be necessary to make any sort of definitive statement along those lines. 

The book ends with an afterward from Sabogal, whose art graces much of this book. Sabogal discusses the magical significance of the head throughout history and in the context of his own art and experience, which ties the work together nicely. The book ends with a bibliiography but no index.

Overall, my reaction to the book is positive. I always welcome an edition of a hitherto-unpublished magical text, and the historical material is intriguing and worthy of further exploration. My concerns arise from the work’s engagement with mythmaking in ways that may be important for creation of magical mindsets but present debatable interpretations of the evidence. Even if that last sentence bothers you, however, I think it’s a worth seeking out and reading.

Published in: on June 5, 2021 at 10:50 am  Comments (2)  

Book Shopping at Long Last, Upcoming Reviews, Open Access Books on Magic, Slavic Folklore, Cultural Appropriation


Lecouteux, Travels to the Otherworld; Reed, Recared’s Unclean Pamphlet; Pennick, Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots

I went out of town this weekend to see my family for the first time since December 2019. Along the way I got to re-visit some of my favorite bookshops, as you can see above. Please feel free to ask me about any of these items.

I finished Precious Apothecary on the plane, but I need to write it up and get a couple things in order before I do. I also received a reviewer’s copy of Acher and Sabogal’s Clavis Goêtica, which will probably be the next item on my list.

If you’re interested in scholarly books on magic, Owen Davies has been posting links to some excellent open access works, including Beyond the Witch Trials, Witchcraft Continued, and The Materiality of Magic.

A small group of friends was hoping to learn something about Slavic folklore, so I invited Katarina Pejovic, author of Balkan Folk Magic: Zmaj, to speak to them. It was wonderful – it takes talent and a considerable depth of knowledge to talk about Serbian dragon lore for an hour and a half, while making it clear that a dozen other topics could be addressed with equal depth and fervor. I recommend her highly to anyone seeking a speaker on this topic.

Some of my FB friends have been circulating links to a Patheos article “Cancelled for Renovations: More Thoughts on Closed Practices” by Thumper Marjorie Forge, dealing with the usage of spiritual practices from other cultures. I think the author is moving in a good direction, yet there are points with which I disagree intensely. I’ll summarize briefly:

  • Cultural appropriation is not itself bad; instead, it is a neutral concept that become problematic when people from historically advantaged backgrounds appropriate practices from people who are historically disadvantaged. In those circumstances, the people, the history, and the practices appropriated may yield different answers for different people.
  • If one is practicing using elements of the cultures of historically disadvantaged groups, consideration of those groups should not be absent from practice or life. Forge offers an example of five individuals working with “Sokovian” culture. I do think that seeking out transactions with indigenous artisans is a good step, but none of these hypothetical practitioners discuss, learn about, or find ways to address the conditions that led to or maintain the Sokovians’ marginalized status, such as a robot army destroying their capital. This could include talking to people from the culture in an open-minded way, seeking out local media, supporting relevant legislation, or any number of other practices.
  • Many of the approaches I see here and elsewhere adopt a “checklist” mentality to cultural appropriation. All someone needs to do is avoid X, Y, and Z, and they will be Good People Not Doing Anything Wrong. I think it is more useful to periodically engage in self-reflection: Has my understanding of this practice changed? Do I know more about those who historically practiced this spirituality? How does that affect my life and my approach? The answers will be different based on the person, the culture, and the practice, of course.

Take care of yourselves, and I’ll talk to you more later.

Published in: on May 26, 2021 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vaccinated, Kickstarter Non-Starter, Paper Given, Medieval Exorcism, Book Received, Dungeon Crawl Classic Thoughts, More

Above illustration from Paul Huson’s Liber Spirituum, now available here.

I’m now fully vaccinated, having spent two days after the second Moderna shot squirreled away watching a Rocky marathon. It did turn out to be more inspirational and interesting than I had thought it would be.

A little while ago, we had an interesting Kickstarter for a “Hastur Tarot Deck.” The project was fully-funded and featured full colour art for a Tarot deck based on the one that John Tynes and I wrote up for Delta Green: Countdown two decades ago. Trouble was, the publisher hadn’t checked with John or I or Arc Dream, who own the rights. Shortly after someone contacted the Kickstarter to point this out, the whole affair was shut down due to “personal issues.” I believe an official release will be Kickstarted later this year, so Mythos fans should have something to which to look forward.

I’ve been holed up at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, where I gave a talk on saints being conjured – mostly Saint Helen and Saint George, with a side note on the St. Christopher prayer. My thanks to the organizers, and I hope to present again in subsequent years.

In preparation for the paper, the introduction to Florence Chave-Mahir and Julien Véronèse’s Ritual d’exorcisme ou manuel de magie?, a publication of one of the first known exorcistic manuals, dating to the early fifteenth century, that includes sections that are very much in the model of what most readers would typically call “incantations.”

Volume 2 of Golden Hoard’s Ars Notoria seems to be in shipping limbo of some sort, with Amazon asking me to approve the order. I’ve heard that this is only temporary, so there’s no need to worry.

I’ve also received John R. King IV’s new book The Faculty of Abrac, which I believe is a review copy that I will not have time to review. If I were to tell the author something helpful, it would be that an index or more detailed table of contents would probably inspire people, including me, to find the text more accessible.

My quarantine Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign is moving toward its conclusion. It is a fun game, although I feel that around level 5 (which might map roughly to 9-10 in other editions) the whole thing starts to break down, as the truly insane combat-ending spell results become commonplace. I’d suggest that anyone running it also insert a “save on a natural 20” roll, to balance out magicians rolling save difficulties that no one can ever beat.

Our Pendragon game continues well into the Anarchy era. Apparently there are plans afoot for an expanded three-volume version of the Great Pendragon Campaign, but that might be some time away.

Published in: on May 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Four Wizards Jump to the Fore, Upcoming Magical Events

Today’s image, poor as it is, represents two pages from the Éditions du Monolithe Liber Thozgraeci, another lineage of the Key of Solomon, displaying the seals of of the seventy-two names of God.

Projects have called me away from writing here. I’ve had to prioritize jumping back into the research on eighteenth and nineteenth-century astrology and alchemy, as well as the complex and contentious saga of Olivia Serres. Next, witch bottles, and then back into the text written by the Four Wizards themselves for final / lengthy tightening up.

Stephen Skinner and Daniel Clark are preparing to release Volume 2 of their Ars Notoria. Note that the product description on Amazon seems to be that of Volume 1; I believe the new work will be on more of the operative end of matters.

During my hiatus, I’ve missed a great deal of events that I wished to tell you about. There’s an event with PSU Press this Friday with four authors of recent books in their History of Magic series, which should be worth seeking out. The Warburg Institute has also had some interesting magical talks, such as this one.

Friend of the blog Al Cummins had a talk on necromancy given in recognition of the latest Magic: The Gathering Release. Watch it here.

The Arkham Gazette 3, including my article on Goody Fowler, is now available in print on demand here.

I’ll try to keep up.

Published in: on April 27, 2021 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

General Update

I haven’t had much to say lately, having a pile of work to do and a pile of gaming to amuse myself afterward. I’m in the vaccination cycle right now, so I’m hoping to be out and about more soon, especially if enough people can also get the same benefit. I might not be heading overseas this year, so I’ll be missing some of you a little longer.

My next review will be Precious Apothecary, although it might take me a while to get to it. I’m doing some deep diving on magical incantations involving the saints, especially directed at St. George and St. Helen, along with pulling together two books at once.

Among books received is Aaman Lamba’s new work Great French Occult Romances (see above), which he was kind enough to send. It includes the Red Dragon novel that I mentioned in my review of his previous work, plus other fictional texts from the same period.

I’m taking a break from the main text in order to continue to work on the illustrations, and to work on some of the background of Olivia Serres and Robert Cross Smith, a.k.a. Raphael. I’m also trying to wrestle with some ideas about when the “occult,” in the way we conceptualize it as a category including magic, alchemy, and astrology, came about. I’m open to reading suggestions on all of this, of course.

Has anyone considered writing a history of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game? It would be great if someone were accumulating all the institutional wisdom of the people involved in its creation, evolution, and distribution.

Take care, everyone.

Published in: on April 13, 2021 at 12:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Review – Black Letter Press Petit Albert

Today I’ll be reviewing the Petit Albert as issued by Black Letter Press and translated by Paul Summers Young. For a caveat on Young, see this post. The two other editions above are the Ouroboros Press edition (purchase link, review), and the Spellbook of Marie Laveau from Hadean (now OOP, review here).

I’m not going to spend too much time on the significance of the Petit Albert – you can check out my writeup at the last link. Also, what follows is not a systematic read of each recipe in each book. Rather, I covered the magical sections of the Black Letter Press edition – I assume you didn’t want the soap recipes – and also dipped into the material from the Hadean and Ouroboros editions, the French edition dated 1752, and some entries from the Trésor de la langue française informatisé from time to time as I went. Much of what I have to say would be superseded by a fluent bilingual reviewer.

The book itself- visible at the upper left above – is quite an attractive book, with its bright blue binding, gold foil pentacle, and cloth bookmark. I’m not sure if I’m fond of the black on dark blue color scheme myself, especially with regard to the spine. Perhaps making more use of brighter cloth colors or gold or silver lettering might be considered for future releases?

Young’s translation covers essentially the same material as in the other two translations. I did notice more problems with the omission of certain passages, and I wanted to quickly address what I think is going on here. It doesn’t happen often, so I don’t see it as a deliberate effort to cut material for space. Rather, it seems that Mr. Young’s translation technique occasionally overlooks a passage and doesn’t catch it later on. I think it would be an easy fix.

I left my last review of the Ouroboros / Hadean editions without any strong feelings one way or another – and I’m in the same place right now. I think the Hadean’s footnotes on the word choices put it slightly ahead, and the Black Letter edition’s occasional omissions slightly behind, but neither are major factors. There’s still an opportunity here for an English translation that takes quality up another notch, and I look forward to it appearing someday.

Published in: on March 30, 2021 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Prepping Le Petit Albert Review, Trolls Galore, Magical Exorcism, The Book of Four Wizards

As you can see above, I’m working on that review of the Black Letter edition of Le Petit Albert, with some examination of other translations. It might not be a full-text review – reading them same text three times is exhausting – but I think it will give people a good idea as to whether they want this book.

Ármann Jakobsson has posted an e-text of his book The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North to his Academia account. If you like what you see, please think about purchasing a print copy.

Agostino Taumaturgo has recently posted on his blog about the curious magical/exorcistic (I use this term with some caution, as the line is not always clear) rite from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek CLM 10085. If you’d like a printed edition with French commentary from the publisher SISMEL, you can find one here.

(I actually did visit the SISMEL offices while I was in Florence – if stopping by on a weekend when they were closed can be considered “visiting.”)

The post’s author has also released a book on Medieval Rituals of Catholic Exorcism, which I have received but not yet read as of yet.

I’m going back to work on the introduction to The Book of Four Wizards. Part of it is turning into an assertion of the importance of manuscript research, which I’m not entirely certain is necessary in the present clime. I’ll give some thought about whether to cut it.

Take care, everyone.

Published in: on March 22, 2021 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Magic of Rogues

Penn State University Press has recently supplemented its excellent Magic in History series with a Magic in History Sourcebooks series, dedicated to publishing primary texts on magic in relatively cheap editions. (This is somewhat confusing, as texts published in the long-standing main series might also fall under that format.) The first work in the series that provides ritual magic texts is Frank Klaassen and Sharon Hubbs Wright’s The Magic of Rogues. It won’t be released in print until April 15, but the electronic version has been out for at least a month. I wish I’d known about it when finishing up my last article.

This relatively short work provides two early sixteenth-century case studies of magicians who ran afoul of legal troubles. The first deals with the Worcestershire nobleman William Neville, who consulted numerous cunning folk in order to gain influence over powerful people and determine whether he would gain his father’s lands. The second concerns a conspiracy of local clergy and secular individuals to treasure hunt near Mixindale. As can be expected, neither of these went well – although those new to the material might be surprised at how light the penalties were and how little interest the authorities had in pursuing their investigations beyond the immediate situation.

For both such cases, Klaassen and Wright provide both legal and magical documentation. The legal documents include the indictments and the testimony of multiple individuals for each of the cases. Following these are segments from magical texts that cover operations with similar purposes. It would be better to magical texts used by the participants, but it’s rare to find anything like this in Britain, in my experience. Both include translations from the Latin (although the Latin itself is not provided), with modernized spelling and some changes to wording for modern sensibilities. The latter can be questionable sometimes, but in this case, each instance is footnoted, and I completely agree with each one of these editorial insertions.

I’m not the best person to comment on the magical texts, as much of the material for the second part comes from Bodleian e Mus. 173, which I published as Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits. What appears here are not so much entire manuscripts as illustrative examples of particular aspects of magical practice. Your tastes may vary, but what I found of interest are instructions for the creation of talismans of Jupiter, with a list of several usages for different purposes, and a fifteenth-century procedure for calling up the four demonic kings. Another reader might find some answers here. The presentation is excellent and thorough – I can see the solution to at least one unresolved question from my own text – and the editors have even made sure to include the illustrations, which other editors might pass over.

I do have a few small quibbles with the text. For starters, Folger V.b.26 is repeatedly referred to as V.b.28. Also, at one point Oberion is referred to as a “demon.” This is not always the case; I have instances in which Oberion is referred to as a spirit, a fairy, or an angel, but not as a demon, save in the legal articles of accusations against Sir James Richardson presented here. (In fact, the term “demon” is little used in the material I’m examining at all, with the more neutral term “spirit” being preferred.) This is largely a question of interpretation rather than fact, however.

This text admirably succeeds in its task of providing a window for non-specialists into primary texts detailing the lives of early sixteenth-century necromancers and their practice. As for those who want magical texts, this does not include a large number, but the texts chosen are of interest and probably worth it for the price.

Published in: on March 13, 2021 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Elucidarium Elucidated, Magic of Rogues Escapes, A Modern Liber Spirituum, Even More Books, Your Bank Account Suffers, Book of Four Wizards, Gaming

I wasn’t sure quite what to blog about this week, but I was provided with a variety of riches from friends, email, and social media. First, Joseph Peterson came to the rescue with a new book, Elucidation of Necromancy, to be issued in December:

Since it first appeared over 500 years ago, the Elucidation of Necromancy (Lucidarium artis Nigromantice) and the closely related Heptameron have become essential guides for individuals seeking to call on angels and other supernatural beings for help. Countless amulets and pendants have been made with its designs, and elements have repeatedly been adapted and incorporated into other manuals of ritual magic. In spite of this, neither a critical edition nor a translation has been previously published. In particular three manuscripts of Lucidarium have come to light recently, which provide a clearer and fuller ritual than the printed Heptameron. For example, they add critical instructions for making the seven angel sigils, which have become so widely known. Together they bring to life this important current of esoteric tradition, showing how it has been repeatedly adapted and used by different individuals for centuries.

Bobby D. also pointed out to me that Klaassen and Wright’s Magic of Rogues is available on Kindle ahead of the print publication, so this has jumped to the front of my reading queue for the time being. One of the first footnotes portends another release from the same authors: Everyday Magicians in Tudor England: Legal Records and Magical Manuscripts.

We also have a twentieth-century work with some deep grimoire roots – Paul Huson’s Liber Spirituum, due out in May:

Drawing on this wellspring of knowledge and such venerable works as the Key of Solomon, The Magus, Heptameron, Three Books of Occult Philosophy as well as others set down a unique and informed set of rituals, in addition to employing his own artistry in the creation of distinctive imagery.

Using the highest quality photographic reproduction and printing methods, Paul’s personal grimoire has here been faithfully and accurately reproduced for the first time. In addition to preserving the ink quality and use of gold and silver paint, this facsimile reproduction has maintained all of Huson’s corrections, including torn, pasted, missing pages and his hand drawn and renumbered folios. Preserved as well are the unique characteristics of the original grimoire paper as it has aged through the decades. In this way, the publisher has stayed true to Paul Huson’s Book of Spirits as it was originally drawn and painted.

Editiones du Monolithe is releasing another work this month: a facsimile edition of a Key of Solomon from the Tozgraec text group held at the Russian State Library.

Finally, we have the second volume in Troy Books’ reproductions of J. H. W. Eldermans’ work(s) on gnomes, the Gnome Grimoire, edited by Wilbur Taal. My sense is that these are much more works of a creative mind than compilations of folklore, but it might be of interest to readers nonetheless.

As for the Book of Four Wizards, I’ve been poking into what I thought at first was some sort of magical amulet made in the shape of three crosses. As it turned out, it’s actually a devotional work by the seventeenth-century Tavistock poet William Browne – you can see an example of it here. I’m not quite sure what the original author’s intent was – as a work of poetry? Did they view it as an amulet?

The Pendragon game has gone into Anarchy, so everything is upended and crazy and wonderful. Both my Dungeon Crawl Classics games, of which I speak very little here, are steaming along.

Talk to you in a week, when maybe I’ll have read something.

Published in: on March 6, 2021 at 11:48 am  Comments (3)