On the Three Ladies at the Table

Many readers will be familiar with the famous ritual in the Grimorium Verum (Peterson or Stratton-Kent editions) to call three spiritual ladies or gentlemen to a table to gain their favor.   A similar ritual appears in the Book of Oberon, as well as in Sloane MS. 3853, and we have several other rituals among the literature of ritual magic that are along the same lines.  Those who are interested in other such examples might check out my article in The Faerie Queens anthology from Avalonia.

Enough links to books!  I’ve made a discovery, via Katherine Briggs’ Anatomy of Puck, of another piece with a similar procedure that predates most ritual magic by centuries.  In the mid-thirteen century, Adam de la Halle, a playwright of Arras, composed a comedy entitled Le jeu de la Feuillee.  It consists of a number of short vignettes surrounding life in the French city – including a visit by three supernatural ladies.

We have very little setup for their appearance, but it would appear that Adam – a character in the play as well as the playwright – and his friend Rikeche have put a table out for the fairies.  Although they are not present, others watch from the sidelines as three women – Morgan, Arsile, and Maglore – appear and take up their seats at the table.  All of them are enchanted by the preparations, save for Maglore, who notices that her knife at the table is missing.  The other two fairies engage her in some playful jesting, but Maglore will have none of it.  The sisters next talk of how the two should be rewarded.  Morgan and Arsile grant Rikeche success at business and riches, and give Adam happiness, fame in love, and a reputation as a poet.  Maglore, still put out, grants Rikeche baldness and condemns Adam to spend his time with his wife instead of running away to Paris.  The whole matter rapidly descends into farce from here.

What is particularly interesting here is one detail from earlier in the poem:  a description of the back of Adam’s wife, “Ke manche d’ivoire entailles / A ches coutiaus a demoisele,” which the editor translates as “Sculpted like the ivory handle / Of those knives for noble maidens.”  He then draws a parallel between this phrase and the knives on the table of Morgan and the others.  It bears noting that some manuscripts, including Sloane 3853 and e.Mus 173, specify that white-handled knives should appear on the table to which the three mysterious women are called.  Admittedly, it could be a coincidence, but the sheer number of correspondences are enough to make one wonder.

(You can find an English translation of Le jeu in The Broken Pot Restored, edited by Gordon D. McGregor.  I should note that the translation has been modernized and might not be accurate at all points.)

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Published in: on November 6, 2015 at 5:37 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Source: On the Three Ladies at the Table […]

  2. Hi Dan,

    Do you have the text for this ritual form Sloane 3853? I looked at the printed version of Offices of the Spirits and saw no mention of the ritual or white handled knives – though I did see the mention of the queen and her daughters. Thanks!

    • Nick,

      I’m working on it – my copies just arrived a few years ago, as that was Joe’s footnote. The Offices of the Spirits are only a small fraction of Sloane 3853.

  3. Can you give a hint as to where the similar ritual appears in Book of Oberon? I’ve been searching in my copy to no avail.


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