Edward Hunter’s Key of Rabbi Solomon and Mormonism

Recently, commenter Adonia Zanoni asked me to write a review of the nineteenth-century Key of Rabbi Solomon, as issued by Hell Fire Club.  This is probably late for most potential buyers, as only the 11-copy super deluxe edition remains for sale, but I’ll handle this as best I’m able.

Full disclosure: I might be working with Hell Fire on a project in the future, so keep that in mind when reading this review.

The Key consists of two booklets, one consisting of a facsimile of the original manuscript of the Key (currently in private hands), and the other a brief introduction to and transcript of the manuscript. All of this is attractively presented and printed, although you’ll certainly see differences based upon the edition acquired (I went for the cheap kidskin).

As for the manuscript itself, I’ve compared it with the Sibley Clavis edited by Joseph Peterson. Most of it corresponds in organization and chapters to that manuscript, although the text is different enough to suggest a different translator – up to a point.  That is, the book breaks off in the middle of the chapter of the talismans of Mercury, corresponding to Wednesday. Thus, if you were expecting a full Key, you will be disappointed.

Yet, sad to say, I’ve had to back burner a more in-depth examination of the book, in order to deal with one particular aspect of the book. Let’s look at the title page:

The Keys
of
Rabbi Solomon

Translated accurately from the
Hebrew into English
by
Edward Hunter

According to the book’s introduction included in the transcript, this Edward Hunter is identical to the man of the same name (1793-1883) who served as the presiding bishop of the Church of Latter-Day Saints for over three decades. Here are some illustrative quotes from the introduction:

It is now little surprise to that we find yet another top Mormon leader who has transcribed what can be determined as highly ritualized, magical, Solomonic arts.

This manuscript is hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.

This manuscript is indeed that “smoking gun”, finally putting to rest the question surrounding Mormon Hermeticism, Kabbalism, and the practice of Solomonic ritual magic.

So – is it the “smoking gun”? Connections between the early Mormons, especially Joseph Smith, and ceremonial magic have been hotly debated back and forth for years. If I might dip into a highly complex and controversial question, I can say that what little literature I’ve read on the topic on both sides shows little knowledge of the literature and practice of ritual magic.

Let’s focus in on this manuscript now, with a discussion examination of the title page above. I think most readers will already be aware that King Solomon did not write any of the “keys” associated with him. Further, the Key of Solomon‘s origins lie in the Greek Hygromanteia, with no proof of Hebrew origins; indeed, what Hebrew copies we have, such as the Gollancz edition, are copies of much later editions translated into Hebrew. The introduction to the transcript claims that Hunter “transcribed” the book, but that is incorrect with regard to the statement on the title page, on which Hunter claims to have translated the book from Hebrew. I can expect a certain degree of deception on the title page of a grimoire, but this certainly raises questions as to how much we can believe any one part of it.

Next, is the Edward Hunter to whom this manuscript is ascribed the same person as the Mormon Bishop? As I’ve learned through researching figures such as “William Bellhouse” and “George Graham,” making sure that one has the right person out of many with a similar name is crucial when it comes to history. Can we connect these two Edward Hunters?

The book provides little helpful material. In the original listing, Hell Fire noted that the watermark of “Whatmans 1827” appeared on the paper. (This piece of information seems to have been lost in a website move that occurred in the last week, but you can still read it here.) Thus, it’s quite plausible that the date of composition occurred during Bishop Hunter’s life.

Beyond that, however, the old Hell Fire website description only tells us that the manuscript “is believed by specialists to have been [created] sometime around 1830 by the Bristol based merchant Edward Hunter,” who “later had links to the Mormon groups in the United States.” This was certainly not Bishop Hunter, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Thus, we have a gap between the promotional material and the introduction.

As you might recalled, we were assured that the the book is “hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.” In that case, we might compare it to other writings attributed to him, including this letter from Edward Hunter to Joseph Smith from October 27, 1841. This is treacherous ground, as I cannot say definitively that one or the other of these documents was not written for Hunter by a clerk or employee, although the number of errors in both suggests a professional scribe was not involved in either one.

Nonetheless, I have gone through a few pages of both documents, extracted images of identical words, and present them below, based upon the principle of fair use:

Word Hunter Letter Hunter Clavis
That  Hunter Letter That  Hunter Clavis That
All  Hunter Letter All  Hunter Clavis Illustrations All
The Hunter Letter The Hunter Clavis Illustrations The
Expences  Hunter Letter Expences  Hunter Clavis Illustrations Expences
Being Hunter Letter Being Hunter Clavis Illustrations Being
And Hunter Letter And Hunter Clavis Illustrations And
Proper Hunter Letter Proper Hunter Clavis Illustrations Proper

The above items speak for themselves – but in case it remains unclear, I should point out in particular the crossbars in the “t”s in “that,” the lower part of the “g” in “being,” and the curve on the “d” in “and.”

At this point, the evidence points away from the Mormon bishop as the transcriber or translator of the book. I should add that, after having contacted the publisher, the editor, and a researcher involved in the Hunter Clavis, I have yet to see any countervailing evidence that might convince me otherwise. Perhaps it will be forthcoming in the following weeks, and I will update this post if it is.

Want to know more about the book? Do you have a perspective on the evidence? In either case, just leave it in the comments below.

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Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 6:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revelore Press on the Magi and Scandinavian Magic, with a Note on Hutton

Some quick updates:

  • Revelore Press is a new publisher that has taken up the mantle – and some of the back catalog – of Rubedo Press, especially their Cyprian-related publications.
  • Revelore also just released the enjoyable new book by the wonderful Al Cummins, A Book of the Magi, dealing with their appearances in folklore, festival, and magic. The only downside to this is that reading it prompted me to start finding  Magi references in all sorts of magical works, which I send to Al, which means he’s probably going to get stuck with writing a sequel. If you’re interested in Christian-themed folk magic or popular religious practices, it’s worth looking at.
  • Revelore has also announced an upcoming book called Svartkönstbocker, a compilation of extracts from the black books of Sweden taken from the work of the late Thomas K. Johnson. The publisher has the rights to his thesis, which is this tremendous translation of many black books that I’ve reviewed previously. I’ll keep an eye on this one, to see how much of those thirty-five grimoires covering five hundred pages they’re going to reprint.
  • Speaking of Swedish magic and folklore… someone here was asking for information on the year walk, or årsgång. I found this article on the topic, for those interested.
  • I’m still working on the Hunter Clavis review, which is delayed due to time constraints. I’m comparing its contents to Sibley – those who want to compare it to Mathers or Skinner and Rankine can do so themselves, because otherwise I won’t have time to work on anything else.
  • Due to an unexpected work-related book review assignment, I have now read all of Hutton’s book The Witch twice, which means that I now have more extensive opinions on it.  I’d stand by my assessment as “pretty good,” but I can see some more of the seams. For example, the subtitle, “A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present,” is bound to throw people off, as the period of the witch trials and afterward is given only a short chapter, along with examinations of particular issues during the trials that relate largely to the British Isles. The chapters on elves and familiars are both must-reads if you’re interested in those topics – but finding them in a book on witches isn’t exactly where one might expect to encounter them. There’s certainly nothing more than a brief allusion to modern witchcraft, and certainly no mention of particular figures or critique of doctrines.
Published in: on April 12, 2018 at 6:52 pm  Comments (3)  

Your Blogger Gets with the Ways of the Youth – Japanese Grimoires and Powwowing

That’s right, everyone! I’m going to demonstrate what a hep cat I am, posting images like the kids are doing on their Instachat! And it’s not just because AncientHistory sent me some fun books that are all in Japanese:

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Japanese grimoires aplenty!

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The Key of Solomon

Key of Solomon Seal of Mercury

Ryukyodo 2007

The first of two books with pictures of Goetic spirits

II Spirits of Solomon

IMG_6066

The demon Sabnock, who can inflict gangrene on you if you’re not careful.

If any readers have more insight into these books, please post in the comments.

I’ve also got some shots of Patrick Donmoyer’s new book Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life. You can order copies directly from the Cultural Heritage Center through this form, or from Masthof Press in hardcover and softcover.

Powwowing in Pennsylvania Cover

This is the hardcover edition, sent to me by Patrick.

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Some of the beautiful pictures inside the book, depicting folk magic procedures.

Three Cross Knife and powwowing cane

You heard about the black-handled knife? Wait until you find out about the Three Cross Knife. Also, we can see some powwowing canes.

Three Kings Blessing

One of the stunning publications preserved in the Heilman Collection.

That’s all for now. I’ll see about reviewing the Hunter Clavis next week!

Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 9:32 am  Comments (3)  

Picatrix Translations in the Works

Apparently two scholarly editions of the Picatrix are in the works.

First, Liana Saif, author of The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy, is working on a new edition of the book. I don’t know if it has a publisher yet; I think it’s changed hands between them at least once.

Also, PSU Press includes a listing for “The History of Magic” that includes a Picatrix edition translated by David Attrell and David Porreca.  Right now, that particular link goes nowhere, so I suppose we’ll find out more later.

Which one will be published first, I wonder?

Published in: on March 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (9)  

Review – Dr. Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit

The German occult scene has seen many books of ritual magic attributed to the infamous Doctor Faust appear over the years. Most of these have remained untranslated into other languages, but recently they have begun to appear in English, most notably through the Mexican publisher Enodia. Following their releases of the Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis and the Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic, they now present one of the books that I’ve been most keen to read ever since I read about it in Butler’s Ritual Magic: Grosser und Gewaltiger Meergeist. Now Nicolás Álvarez’ latest translation, Doctor Johannes Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit, finally scratches that itch.

Before going forward, I should add that I’m in talks with another publisher to work on an edition of Meergeist. Please read the following in light of this potential conflict of interest. Plus, this is a book I purchased, rather than a review copy.

We begin with an introduction from Álvarez , providing insight into the background and cultural significance of the book and its contents. It particularly notes the more imaginative aspects of the ritual, and Álvarez also provides us with insights on the early modern attitudes toward the imagination and its usage in magic. The only small addition I wanted were a few notes, especially for the mythological and folkloric significance of underwater beings. The book also includes a bibliography, but lacks an index.

The bulk of the book consists of four treatises on magic, beginning with the Sea-Spirit itself. In this experiment, a magician creates a massive metal circle, using chains from a gallows and nails from a breaking wheel.  He places it by a body of water, and then brings three companions and a black hen. We then see a curious interlude in which Lucifer and his subservient spirits appear before the magician and discuss the great riches that they hold. Then Lucifer and Amaymon take on the form of Persian merchants and greet the magician, asking him whether they have the seven souls necessary to complete the operation. The magician cites himself, his three companions, the two demons, and a black hen, and demands the treasure.

Álvarez provides us with three additional rites, two of which are connected with the water. The first, taken from Darmstadt MS 831, is a waterside rite to call up the spirit Quirumndai, who can bring treasure and teach the magician secrets in the guise of an old, grey-cloaked man. The second, the Veritable Jesuit Coercion of Hell, is not actually linked to the Jesuits, as you’ve probably guessed, but a magical operation to call the spirit Tarafael to bring up treasure from the depths. The third, Arcanum Experientia Praetiosum, is geared toward a dream incubation rite, such as those for the spirit Balancus in Oberon. A key part of this is creating a spirit sigil which is placed under the window and then beaten with a rod while calling upon the archangel Michael until the spirit performs one’s bidding. All four total about seventy pages of text.

I haven’t had time to check the translation at any length, but if you want to compare, Álvarez places the German text in an appendix.  Overall, the book is attractive and thorough in presentation, although the text might have benefited from another once-over – and my copy could have used a little more packing material.

I don’t want to leave this on a negative note, however. You’ve got four texts here that have never been translated into English before, one of which has not been published before now, to my knowledge. This constitutes a great new resource for anyone who collects grimoires, especially those who are fascinated in Faustian magic in particular. If either of those describes you, you should definitely send some money to Mexico for this one.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

More Lecouteux Followups, Gaming in Averoigne and the Borderlands, and an Unwise Experiment

It’s a snow day here, so it’s an opportunity to catch up on some miscellaneous news.

…I’ve noticed a pattern in his books on Lapidaries and Talismans that aren’t quiet right, he doesn’t seem to understand how to construct these things nor attempted to ever do so, just translates random snippets and unfortunately some of his works get hyped as “complete”…

This is NOT to say that the works of Claude LeCouteux are worthless, but I find myself telling people over and over that his books on grimoires, talismans and amulets, and lapidaries should only be used as supplements for the fully translated materials that are already available, neo-grimoires, academic books & publications, as well as the occasional online lecture or course, and NEVER as newbie how-to books.

My only comment is that I hope RGF will take this knowledge and give it to us in some way. The world needs more quality works on magic.

  • You might notice that Lecouteux’s book A Lapidary of Sacred Stones, which is mentioned above, hasn’t rated a mention here. I got it in December and found it frustrating. It’s arranged alphabetically by the original, non-English names of the stones (and as we don’t know the translation, that’s fine) – and it lacks an index. Thus, no recommendation.
  • The D&D group has spent two sessions journeying through Clark Ashton Smith’s  Averoigne. I decided not to add too much new content, aside from a few random encounters, such as the one with the inquisitor who was told that a winged party member was the “spirit made flesh.” Now that they’ve achieved all of their goals, they’ve decided that they need to take out Bishop Azedarac. This should go well.
  • I also ran a group at a staff retreat through the Keep in the Borderlands. I had many newbies and a few players of Pathfinder and later editions. Somehow they managed to pick the Shrine of Evil Chaos as their random destination, killed all the evil priests, and outran a horde of undead with only two or three deaths in the group. Nicely done!
  • A journal has accepted one of my articles. Upon signing the agreement for publication, I realized that they retain the copyright – but I have the right to put up the final pre-publication edited version online after publication. I think it will be an interesting and accessible piece.
  •  I’ve been baffled by a reference in e Mus. 173 to a horrible substance called “assacasinus.” Based upon the name, I was wondering if this might be cassia fistula, a plant known in medieval times as “cassia” and used today to cleanse sinuses and as an insecticide.

So, I ordered some the supplement online, and I put a small amount – about an eighth of a teaspoon – on a piece of charcoal. After vacating the room, I can say with confidence that it would be an appropriate substance for an early modern magician to put on a fire to torment a spirit – and, as is usual with such suffumigation, anyone else who is unfortunate enough to be nearby. I’m not sure that this is anywhere near rigorous enough to be definitive. I’m still open to other suggestions.

That’s all for now.  I’ve got some reviews coming up of the latest Enodia Press release, some samples of dojinshi, and the Hunter Clavis, so you can look forward to those.

 

Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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.

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

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)