On the Shelf Review – Tidebast och Vandelrot

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.


Published in: on January 6, 2012 at 11:45 am  Comments (27)  

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  1. […] more info… This entry was posted in GENERAL POSTS. Bookmark the permalink. ← Marketing Supply Chain Aerospace Machining And Its High-Precision Assemblies: Working To Guarantee Performance And Safety Across Our Skies […]

  2. Thank you for your positive review, Dan. Consider as well that I wrote it for an academic degree, and perhaps some of the unnecessary verbage might fall away in any popular edition that may see print, reducing the pages to something more publishable?
    Tom Johnson

    • Hello,

      since I cannot find your mail address, I’m trying again to contact you through this blog – with apologies to the owner! I have the version of your dissertation found here: http://gradworks.umi.com/3406109.pdf – I realise you quite possibly have caught the errors yourself, but in case you haven’t, I believe I can assist you with some important corrections and additions.


      p. 301 – “[hårpix]-oil” – rosin oil – it is called harpiksolje in both Danish and Norwegian (hartsolja in standard Swedish)

      p. 310 – “birch [laka]” – assuming the original says björklaka – this is birch sap (björksav in standard Swedish)

      p. 314 – “Hazelnut” – assuming the original says haat they call the tree frog (Hyla arborea) in parts of southern Sweden (lövgroda in standard Swedish)

      + ca. 250 more

      – Hlin

      • Correction: …says “Hazelnut” – assuming the original says hasselfrö, this is what they…

      • Assuming you will address this in your personal email. – Tom

      • Hlin, I know it has been many years but I’m hoping this might reach you. I am writing on behalf of Tom’s widow. Tom’s dissertation is being published and we would like to ask you about the corrections you discussed. Please contact me at akasha140@yahoo.com.

  3. Tom,

    Any chance of getting a copy of that paper directly from you?

  4. The files are large. I’m honored for your interest. You can reach me via and we can somehow negotiate the difficult realm of internet files, okay? – Tom

  5. Tom,

    It’s tough to agree with that, because it’s hard to identify any part of this massive work that I’d want to see you part with in a more streamlined popular edition. Even the discussion of previous scholarship was fascinating.

    Nonetheless, I doubt anyone will complain if a streamlined version is picked up. I think Golden Hoard, Avalonia, Scarlet Imprint, or any other small grimoire press would snap this up in a heartbeat.


  6. […] writing my review of Tidebast och Vandelrot, I came across one particular charm that effectively rewrites the history of sex magic in the […]

  7. […] writing my review of Tidebast och Vandelrot, I came across one particular charm that effectively rewrites the history of sex magic in the […]

  8. It is a wonderful notice I would like also a lot a copy of the work of Mr. Tomas Johnson, I have researched a bit about the svartebokas, for my investigations about the Book of St. Cyprian in spanish and portuguese traditions and placing it in the context of Cyprian tradition worldwide, but I only have read the book of “Books of Elverum”, some texts about legends and folklore, and I own five books called Cyprianus but they are mainly dictionaries of dreams, drombogs, as they are very popular too.
    The elder one that I have is the
    Cyprianus, indeholdende Den fuldstændigste og paalideligste Drømme- og Spaabog med Anvisning til at spaa
    i Kort, Kaffe og Æggehvide (…) samt Planetbog. (…) Med
    Fortegnelse over Tycho Brahes Dage (etc.). Jul. Strandbergs
    Forlagsboghandel. København uden år [cirka 1880]..
    illustration: Med træskårne vignetter. 16 s. Pæn stand.
    Senere papirbind. Håndskrevet titeletiket på forperm.
    Titelbladets Cyprianus tilføjet rød farve.

    But I don’t know any scandinavian language. It is a pity.
    As in spanish we say, enhorabuena, noraboa (in galician and portuguese) for such wonderful work.

    • I have just purchased it, very interesting.

      I had some idea years ago about put all the books of st. cyprian together with all their charms, but by now I didn’t decided to do it, the problem is the bad use of them, as in Latinamerica people stills believes in the magical power of the book, and they use the book for magic really.
      During the last years many persons have contacted with me via e-mail asking for Books of St. Cyprian, Satan pupils wanting to do a pact with me, they put their knowledge and I lend my books…, invitations for finding treasures, including elementals, dwarfs that had the treasure, etc. etc.
      I helped to some of them that I thought that their purpose was “good”.
      One of the most difficult moments that I had for deciding to send a spell was a person that told me that he worked in a laundry and that a woman (using magic) paied him and when he gave her the change he gave her a lot of money, he knowed that the change was incorrect (much more money back) but that he couldn’t stop.

      He wanted a spell for coming back the robbed things. I sent it to him but the problem of this spell is that if the thief doesn’t give back the thing, dies.

      Finally the person decided not to put in practice the spell and to have the money lost.
      Perhaps with books published in english there aren’t such troubles, not in portuguese or spanish, it is very common.

      And as we say in Galicia, I don’t believe in witches, but there are (they exist).
      (Non creo nas meigas, pero habelas haylas).

      Of course I don’t compare this cases with the work of Mr. Johnson as it is a nice work of scholarship and intended for scholars. And it is very necesary to do it, but it is more about the public that the books have.

      And a curious thing, as in the books analized by Mr. Johnsnon, in the spanish and portuguese Books of St. Cyprian, the most part of the charms are “good”, white magic, and mainly love magic, not evil ones.

      Sorry for my long post. I had a long time waiting for a similar work for knowing what told these misterious scandinavian charms.
      Congratulations! (I remembered the word in english)

  9. Tom, would you please email me? My email address is nickkoss at gmail dot com.

  10. Tom,

    If there aren’t copyright or other contractual issues with ProQuest, perhaps Scribd would be a way of making the thesis available.


  11. I don’t understand ProQuest. I still have university net access (for now…), and when I went through that, ProQuest marked it as “open access”. Obviously they don’t mean by that phrase what I mean by it. Access issues aside, this is absolutely magnificent work. And definitely publishable; I’d buy a revised version in a heartbeat.

    I’m staring at the evocation of Marbuel now, which you (following Ek) refer to the _Miracul- Kunst- und Wunder-Buch etc_. The only Faustian grimoires I have easy access to in English are the ones in Peterson’s 6th and 7th Books of Moses, and this is much more substantial an evocation than those texts.

    I grabbed a copy of Das Kloster vol. 2 from Google Books, the 1846 volume with the Faust grimoires. I don’t read German, but to be quite honest, neither the names of evocation nor the sigils really look to me like anything in *any* of the Das Kloster texts, not even the “Particular-Citation” you mention. (I’m looking particularly at the sigil with two triangles above the triple cross on p. 279; at the use of Hebrew in-text in the citations on 277-8; things like that.)

    Am I missing some set of names that form the connection, or is it the substantive part of the citation (which I obviously can’t read in the German) that makes the texts similar? Even if one citation matches the MKW-Buch, it seems like there’s a great deal of material here that must be from some other source.

    I guess I’m just questioning your conclusion (or Ek’s conclusion, I suppose) that this evocation is derived directly from this particular text. And it certainly doesn’t look like the Spirit-Commando texts in Peterson. I do agree that it is probably copied from some Faustian grimoire or other.

    Anybody have any thoughts?

    • Jeremy:
      I think you’re correct. Ek was so enthusiastic to finally find a text mentioning Marbuel, then he overlooked a gross disparity in the texts. Interestingly, Negromänliska saker seems much more of interest to the working sorcerer than the more aimless yet conjurationally complete Black Raven. This section will need editing and repair before any further version is released. Thank you for your interest! – Tom

  12. Dan, and all:

    Ben Fernee at Caduceus Books has been working on an edition of *some* of the material from my dissertation on the Black Art Books which has to do with the wise ones and their relation to the Dead. I have furnished the translations as well as an editorial Afterword, and I hope this is the first in a long line of editions of the charm corpus to appear in English. The working title is “Graveyard Wanderers” and should be published sometime in the autumn. All of my work on it has been completed, but Ben is busy with a number of projects, so a precise date is not available yet. If you’ve a subscription to his email list, you’ll know when it is available.

    Good things,
    Tom Johnson

    • Excellent! I’ll announce it when it appears.

  13. Hello, I received last week and e-mail with the announcement of the publication of the “Graveyard Wanderers” by Dr. Tom Johnson.
    You can see the book here
    I have just ordered one for me and I was informed that the most part of the books are sold.

  14. […] book should be compared with Johnson’s Tidebast och Vandelrot, a comprehensive dissertation on the topic of Swedish black books including over five hundred pages […]

  15. Hello!
    Could you tell me where to get hold of Thomas Johnsson? I am very impressed by his work with this material, and I believe I can offer important corrections and additional information for his manuscript.
    Thank you!
    – Hlin

    • Hlin:
      Do you have access to the original manuscripts that would make additional lexical suggestions substantive? If so, please reach me at tom_johnson_home at yahoo dot com. At this point, my work has been pretty exclusively with the original manuscripts, with occasional inclusion of texts that were transcriptions made during the early years of the twentieth century.


  16. […] news of the passing of Thomas K. Johnson, author of Graveyard Wanderers and the dissertation “Tidebast och Vandelrot.”  His obituary, listing the accomplishments of an impressive life, may be found […]

  17. […] 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 […]

  18. […] been amazing seeing the fluorescence of publishing of historic works of magic recently. When I reviewed Dr. Thomas K. Johnson’s tremendous dissertation Tidebast och Vandelrot back in 2012, I […]

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