A while ago, Caduceus Books advertised a new work with the title Book of Magic from the library of the magician and soldier Major Francis G. Irwin. I ordered the book when the subscriptions were open, and as they’re now closed, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to find a copy of it save on the second-hand market. That’s a shame, because it is quite an interesting book that documents some of the aspects of 19th century magic in the time between Francis Barrett and MacGregor Mathers.
(Full disclosure: I’ve published one book through Caduceus, and we’re also working on some other projects.)
The book seems to have been in the library of Henry Irwin, the son of the Major, a promising student who died of a drug overdose in 1879. His father added the book to his library and included a bookplate that commemorated his son’s passing. It later passed through the library of Frederick L. Gardner. The whereabouts of the manuscript are unknown, largely because I haven’t asked Ben about them.
There are some beautiful pictures of the book at the title link above, so all I can say is that it definitely lives up to them. What I’d like to talk about is the significance of the work, for those who might not have access to it.
The Book of Magic is a document describing the rites and lore relating to the group called the “Fratres Lucis” or the (appropriate for the time) “Order of the Swastika.” The group, which included such individuals as the Irwins, Kenneth Mackenzie, and Frederick Hockley as members, is discussed in depth in Ellic Howe’s classic article “Fringe Freemasonry in England 1870-85“. It does appear that there are other documents relating to the FL at Freemason’s Hall, but none of them correspond to the details of this one.
And what are those details? This does not seem to be a systematic manual for the rituals, instead interspersing admonitions to the aspiring magician, notes on the theory of magic, and techniques of talismanic magic, mirror scrying, and mesmerism. It includes references to the occultism from the period – a quick reference to the discovery of Uranus, the techniques of Mesmer becoming part of the magical repertoire, and Éliphas Lévi’s interpretation of the one-point-up versus two-point-up pentagram. Some of the material, such as the forms of the spirits of the sun, is derived from the Fourth Book of Agrippa. We also have references to a supposed late eighteenth-century French order, supposedly including Pasqually, St Germain, and Caglistro, who seemed intend in calling up the spirit of Templar head Jacques de Molay. (It should be noted that the “ghost” explanation given for the charges of spitting on the cross and other blasphemies here is different from the one we now know to have occurred.)
If anyone has any other questions about the book, feel free to put them in the comments.