I’ve been working on a few projects that can’t be formally announced and enjoying a long holiday weekend. I did manage to track down another example of a Birto incantation, similar to one in the Folger manuscript. When I say, “track down,” I mean “spending a great deal of time and effort trying to even get the page number, after which I wrote Joe on the off chance he’d have it, and he did.” Here are some thoughts about these rituals that I’d like to get down.
As with the ritual we’ve seen in the Folger, this one calls for a white-handled knife to be used in drawing the circle on the ground. It also omits the drawing of the wyvern that should be placed between the circles that we saw in the later examples in the Hockley Clavii. This means that this is no individual deviation, but instead represents a particular category of the rite that likely has more examples out there.
I also came across these passages in C. J. S. Thompson’s Mysteries and Secrets of Magic:
The story is recounted in a manuscript of the sixteenth century, of how Birto was invoked and the part a “green dragon” played in it, of which a picture is given… But to obtain the presence of Birto, it was necessary that the circle of the invocant should have the “effigy or character of a dragon fairly drawn or painted, and the circle in which the spirit is to appear should be made on a calve’s skin parchment.”
This means that, instead of the Hockley Clavis versions being a later derivation of the Folger rite, a similar rite was circulating at the same time. It’s hard to make much more than that out of it, as we don’t have the actual rite before us.
Let’s add in another consideration. In each of these ceremonies, Birto is said to be the servant of two other spirits of uncertain nature, Ornothochos and Booth. This makes it likely that, for about half a millennium, we’ve had two separate rites for the same spirit, one with a white-hafted knife and another with a wyvern drawing, each diverging from an earlier common point of origin.
This might be a little convoluted, because it illustrates just how little we know about magical traditions. The grimoires that have formed the basis for so many of our discussions and the practice of many practitioners are only a small fraction of what was written. Until recently, no one but Thompson had even written of Birto, much less examined the numerous rites surrounding him. Now we find a tradition of Birto summoning, complete with major variants in the texts. What other surprises await us as others examine these texts?