Review: Of the Arte Goetia

I’m always happy to receive a new release from Teitan Press, and what follows is a review based upon a copy Teitan was kind enough to send me.

Colin Campbell, editor of A Book of the Offices of the Spirits (review here), has brought us another esoteric exploration, this time of the incantations and list of spirits known as the Goetia.  Of the Arte Goetia provides us with the full text of this magical manual as given in Sloane MS. 3825, along with commentaries and comparisons with other texts, including Munich CLM 849 (Kieckhefer’s Forbidden Rites), Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, and Folger MS. V.b.26 (a.k.a. The Book of Oberon).  With this we have a lengthy history of the Goetia, two appendices including the texts of the Pentaculum Salomonis and Vinculum Salomonis, and a bibliography – but no index, unfortunately.

This may be a longer review than usual, as I have mixed feelings about this book.  The list of spirits will be of great interest to many, as Campbell places all similar descriptions from Weyer, Scot, and the Goetia together, so that a reader may compare and contrast them.   All of this is available online, but this makes the process considerably easier.  Also of interest will be the notations as to the links between the Goetia incantations and those from such sources as the Heptameron and the Pentaculum Salomonis.   All of this should be deeply appreciated by those who work with the Goetia, including scholars and practitioners alike.

At the same time, however, we also have a number of mistakes.  For example, Weyer’s description of the spirit Pruflas includes the line “partim ex ordine Throni, partim Angelorum.”  As this appears in the section on the legions, it is logical to assume this refers to his servitors being partially from the heavenly Thrones and part from the Angels.  This is the explanation on one page of Arte – but on the facing one, Campbell states that it is the spirit himself who is of mixed nature, which makes little sense in the hierarchy.

We also see some smaller errors:  The magical and alchemical manuscripts of General Charles Rainsford are in the possession of the University of Pennsylvania, not Penn State.  Later, the author insists that the use of astrological symbols for metals was a blind, even though only seven metals were known at the time it was written.  Also, if one is to cite Crowley’s Goetia introduction, “On the Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic,” one should bear in mind Crowley’s revision of his position in his Confessions.

We also have theories that, while not provably wrong, are nonetheless very unlikely.  One puzzle for those who examine Weyer, Scot, and Goetia is why similar spirits appear in quite different order in their lists. Campbell’s explanation is that some unlucky scholar must have accidentally shuffled a manuscript before copying.  Unfortunately, given how those lists break down (scroll down for Peterson’s chart), we’d have to assume that the author only covered one spirit per page, front and back.  The manuscripts we have usually have multiple spirits on the same pages.  It may be better to assume that multiple traditions were at play here – especially as the Goetia includes spirit seals that the other two books lack.

Also in this category:  Campbell insists that an angel’s admonition to Edward Kelley not to summon evil spirits could indicate he owned the Goetia, without mentioning that any number of other manuscripts had similar rituals.  The author maintains that Folger V.b.26 mentions Agaros riding not on a crocodile, but on a cockatrice – although the word in question, “cockeadrill,” is a variant spelling of the Middle English word for “crocodile,” and only rarely used for cockatrices.

Finally, a question emerges as to the book’s audience.  On one hand, we have lengthy descriptions of pseudo-Dionysus’ hierarchy and the Biblical allusions in the Goetia‘s second conjuration – all of which are readily available from other sources.  On the other, we have the material from Weyer and the two appendices, which are entirely in untranslated Latin.  What person will be able to access one, but not the other?

Don’t get the wrong impression from the above litany of complaints – I’ve certainly read far worse books.  Nonetheless, I find most frustrating books that are good, but that could have been much better, and this is one of them.  I’d say it’s a definite buy for anyone interested in the Goetia, but it is also a source that should be used with caution and consideration when it comes to endorsing particular points.  It does bear mentioning that, given the collectible nature of Teitan’s books, one who is on the fence should consider purchasing it sooner rather than later.

Published in: on October 11, 2015 at 7:50 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I think you are on the mark in your critique. I would like to draw attention to an especially irritating mistake on page 215. The two sentences from Wier beginning”…quo sapientissimus Salomon…” ending with “… arrogantiam ipsus Beliel…” are misplaced and more correctly occur later in the excerpt. This may be merely a type setters error. I do not know Cambell’s original intention, but these two sentences ought to eliminated and the excerpt begin “Forma exorcistae invenitur…”. The phrase “…quo sapientissimus solomon (sic)”.. in Wier (1577 ed) at col 919, line 36 ending col 920, line 28.

    I am surprised Campbell (neither did Peterson) did not address the issue of the “brasen vessel” Weir has “vase vitreo” clearly a glass vessel, it is Scot who renders it as a “brasen vessell” which is taken into all the lemegetonic mss. This supports Brinsley Nicholson’s suggestion that Scot did not take his list from Weir, but may have had an independent source. Glass vessels are more common spirit containers in magic of that and earlier periods.

    Yours truly,

    Kcin


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