When studying the history of grimoires, a key problem is the gap between the folklore revolving around the books and their actual content. Both sets of data are often difficult to access, with some scholars ending up with one and not the other. When a work comes along that deals at great length with both of these, it certainly bears comment.
Unfortunately, Thomas Johnson’s dissertation, Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, has not been published at this time. If you have a research library that subscribes to the ProQuest Dissertations database nearby, it may be worth a trip to download a PDF of Johnson’s work.
For his dissertation, Johnson scoured the libraries and archives of Sweden to find svarteboka, the “black books” in which rural curers and magicians recorded their lore. In Tidebast, he provides an illuminating examinations of what is known about such individuals and the popular legends that surrounded them and their works. He examines thirty-five such books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, detailing their backgrounds and performing statistical analyses on the topics of the spells. In the process, Johnson comes to some interesting conclusions. For example, many of the charms in these books are for healing purposes, with much fewer items with malefic intent, yet the general character of the books rarely varies based on the good or bad reputation of the magician. All of this is examined within the framework of modern research on magic, grimoires, and charming, and would make this a work definitely worth reading for both scholars and practitioners.
Did I mention that Johnson then translates all thirty-five of those books from Swedish and includes the text in a massive 500-page appendix?
That’s right, we’re talking about nearly two thousand charms, incantations, home remedies, and other items from across Sweden. They range from invocations of the Faustian demon Marbuel to tricks to scare dragons away from treasure to techniques to make a herring flip itself on the grill when being cooked (that one’s a little heavy on the mercury). Frankly, I’ve tried to read it all and failed, largely because there’s just so much interesting material in here that I never get very far. Overall, it might constitute one of the largest collections of such material ever published in English, and its value in bringing to light the magical traditions of Swedish society cannot be overemphasized.
Needless to say, this book is highly recommended, and it’s a shame that its scope is so great that publishing it would be difficult. It certainly deserves a much broader audience.