On the Shelf Review – The Book of Treasure Spirits

The latest offering from Avalonia Books is The Book of Treasure Spirits, a collection of seventeenth-century incantations for finding lost treasure and other purposes taken from the British Museum’s Sloane MS 3824.

For hundreds of years, treasure hunting was a popular pastime in both Europe and North America.  According to folklore, such a quest was rife with danger from evil spirits dedicated to protecting the trove from all comers.  They could bear away the treasure at a moment’s notice if the hunters broke a single rule (such as making a sound while digging), terrify intruders with horrible sights and sounds, or transform gold into dross at a moment’s notice.  Thus, procedures for exorcising spirits – and, for the lazier magicians, calling upon spirits to bring the treasure and cut out that pesky digging – were popular among those who sought hidden wealth.  This book covers the nature and behavior of the spirits who might guard a treasure, as well as providing ceremonies for summoning demons and spirits to help with its recovery.

So, what do we have here?  Some of the spirit operations in this book have been published previously – for example, that of Bealphares (or Bealpharos) seems to originate in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and the summoning of the spirit Birto, for whom an ornate wyvern must be drawn on the ground, appears in Hockley’s Clavis, available either through the Caduceus Press edition (reviewed here) or in Peterson’s forthcoming facsimile.  It also contains pieces that I have not seen, such as a conjuration of a spirit named “Brett,” or a threefold calling of Lucifer, Beelzebub and Sathan.  A few non-treasure spells also made their way in, such as the highly complex method for recalling a thief requiring five lead plates, and a spell for obtaining one’s desire by drawing a circle in lapwing’s blood on parchment which is then laid down in an orchard.  The variants will be of interest to scholars, and more general audiences might be intrigued to see those operations newly in print.

I should add that this is not a facsimile nor a complete reprinting of Sloane 3824.  As Rankine shows, much of the material not reprinted is readily available in other sources, so this is not a great loss.  The illustrations are sketches instead of reproductions, so those interested in precision in such diagrams are warned in advance.

Treasure Spirits is an essential work for anyone interested in the history of English magic or the folklore of hidden riches.

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. It might make for an interesting topic for some historican or sociologist as to why some types of spells for obtaining certain benefits (treasure hunting, love, knowledge, etc.) were more popular in some time periods than others. I can only surmise that the most likely reason has to do with the audience intended by the grimoire. But the real question that I wonder about is who they thought were responsible for burying these treasures and how did they had happened to capture and force spirits to act as security guards for them? Surely there must have been some speculation or commentary within the texts to indicate the common beliefs of the time in regards to these questions, n’est-ce pas? Or were treasure hunters crass enough to not even worry about such matters?

  2. […] Avalonia Books is offering a special deal on two of its books:  The Book of Treasure Spirits (my review here) and A Collection of Magical Secrets (review here).  Both are excellent works, and this is a good […]

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