Review: Jake Stratton-Kent’s Pandemonium

Many readers will be familiar with the list of seventy-two spirits that constitutes the Goetia section of the Lesser Key of Solomon.  Some may know of other such lists – published in Johann Weyer’s De praestigiis daemonum, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, the Grimorium Verum, and even in The Book of Oberon itself.  Until now, however, no comprehensive examination of these spirits and how they might relate to each other.  Jake Stratton-Kent’s new book from Hadean Press, Pandemonium: A Discordant Concordance of Diverse Spirit Catalogues, is the first attempt to do so.

The book begins with a new English translation of “Le Livre des Esperitz,” a French treatise held at Cambridge’s Trinity College O.8.29, by Mallorie Vaudoise.  The inclusion of this document, which describes forty-six spirits in a manner similar to the Goetia, makes the book an important resource for anyone interested in these spirit hierarchies.

Jake then moves to an examination of various parts of the spirit hierarchy, first dealing with the trinity of spirits that oversee the rest, the spirits of the seven days of the week, the kings of the four directions, and the multitude of other spirits that follow them.  At the minimum, each of these spirits receives a chart showing their appearances in a number of different sources, their Goetic seal (if any), their illustration in de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal (if any), their description in Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and notes regarding their appearance.  Many of these spirits merit a greater amount of treatment, however, and the author does not disappoint.

Before I discuss my concerns, which are relatively minor, I should extend considerable kudos to Jake for all of this work.  This is the sort of in-depth examination that desperately needed to be done, in order to start charting out more of the history of magic, and that requires considerable patience and access to texts to carry out.  He makes a number of discoveries and raises hypotheses that can be checked as new texts are discovered and compared to this work.  So this is a major step forward when it comes to charting the spirit world of late medieval and early Renaissance magic.

It does bear noting, however, that this book is aimed at practitioners and not scholars, which leads to some choices that favor one group over another. I can’t necessarily fault the book for doing so, but it does bear mentioning.

For instance, the spirit listings, after the initial trinity of rulers, weekly spirits, and four kings, follow the order in Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia daemonum. Nonetheless, the charts list the spirits based upon their appearance in Weyer’s work, but the text quoted in the entries is from Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft.  Then we often have the seal from the Goetia.

From a practitioner’s point of view, it makes sense to put everything together in this way, so all the information about a spirit is in one place.  From a scholarly perspective, it conflates these sources in ways that are not always helpful.  For example, Scot’s text is quite similar to Weyer’s, but there are certainly differences between the two.  (Given how conscientious Jake is, I’m guessing that swapping Scot for Weyer’s work was only done in extremis.)  Further, the inclusion of Goetic seals may give the impression that these are common elements of such spirit lists, when we have examples both with the seals and many without.  If you want to understand what’s in the original manuscripts, this approach elides the differences between them and – ironically – pushes the Goetia into a prominence that the book as a whole seeks to take away from it.

It should also be noted that the spirit lists are not necessarily the only material in ritual magic texts that discusses the names and offices of spirits.  Some are full-fledged rites to summon particular ones, while others are brief notes, sometimes only of names, but at other times giving additional information about purposes or planetary or elemental attributes.  Indeed, a short list of the queen of fairies and the seven fairy sisters occupies a point in The Book of Oberon between two items discussed in the book.  This does not diminish the importance of Jake’s work, but noting it is important in terms of understanding these books in their entirety.

Readers should note that Jake does assume a certain amount of familiarity with a good number of ritual magic texts, most of which have been previously printed.  If you’ve regularly purchased the books I recommend here, for instance, you’ll be well on your way.  I wonder if a few pages devoted to discussing the history and significance of the main texts with which he deals might have made for a book that was accessible to more people.  For example, I had to find the collection and manuscript number for the translated work myself.  Then again, this is not a mass market book by any means, nor should it be expected to be one.

Still, the specialized nature of this work narrows the market of potential buyers.  I can see it of particular interest to those who want to see how various published grimoires fit together in terms of their shared spiritual universe, or practitioners who want to understand the context of their operations.  Both groups should be quite happy with what Pandemonium offers.



Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 2:49 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “Before I discuss my concerns, which are relatively minor, I should extend considerable kudos to Jake for all of this work. This is the sort of in-depth examination that desperately needed to be done, in order to start charting out more of the history of magic, and that requires considerable patience and access to texts to carry out. ” Rather sad when you think about it.

  2. Bit problematic that one has to resort to occultists for readily available source texts on such subjects. They are a bit to much part of the material, themselves.

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