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 (5)  

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)  

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 (8)