Review: Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing

Oddly enough, despite his extensive catalog of works published through Inner Traditions, Professor Claude Lecouteux’s new releases get little attention. His latest work, Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing, didn’t show up in their catalog, and I only learned of it while exploring the shelves of the Union Square Barnes and Noble.  It’s likely many readers won’t hear of it, which is a shame. Lecouteux provides us with a marvelous excavation of the intellectual strata of magic, providing a wealth of spells and charms for these purposes. Yet the book is also a frustrating one in terms of organization.

traditional-magic-spells-for-protection-and-healing-9781620556214_hrIf you are interested in reading a collection of spells to protect and heal derived from magical traditions from across Europe, this certainly fits the bill. The format is very similar to that in The Book of Grimoires, although the coverage is much more broad. Frankly, I wish that Lecouteux had downplayed Pliny, given his availability in translation, but the bulk of material consists of remedies from medieval and early modern manuscripts and non-English works and journals dealing with folklore. The short commentaries vary in their usefulness for me and seem spotty in nature, but I think less specialized readers will find them welcome.

In terms of its content, this book is wonderful. As for its organization, it leaves me completely baffled as to why it was arranged as it was.  We begin with magical methods of diagnosis, followed by a lengthy section giving the cures for various ailments in alphabetical order.  Initially each section appears to be arranged chronologically from the earliest charms to the latest, but this breaks down in some of the longer sections. We even have a section for dealing with spells that heal multiple ailments – although not all the spells that do so are included in this section.

The next chapter deals with protections against evil spells, the Evil Eye, and witchcraft. Next come compilations of charms against demons, and then against fairies, trolls, and other such spirits – although remedies for demons are mixed in with them. Then we return to healing, this time for animals – although I’ve found charms to cure animals in previous sections – and finally to ways of warding off natural disasters, ghosts (who are distinguished from other spirits), witchcraft, and other dangers.

All of this is followed with a curious series of appendices: a brief work on healing by Saint Bernardine of Siena; descriptions of the deeds of sorcerers by Bernard Gui and Cyrano de Bergerac (a passage I read as satiric); a brief section on encrypted and enciphered spells; an untranslated page on healing from the works of Jean Fernel; procedures for making a man impotent; a list of French and Belgian saints and the afflictions they cure, and a few pages of talismans attributed to Apollonius of Tyana.  I won’t say that these are unconnected with the text, but why exactly this particular selection of topics was chosen as appendices is not always clear. Overall, it’s hard to come up with reasons why this book would have taken the form it did.

If you’ve got a book as I’ve just described, what will really pull it together is a good, comprehensive index that can make the contents available howsoever they are organized. This one… is not so great.  In many cases it simply covers the categories already present, without detailing other appearances of the same topic elsewhere.

This is not to say that this is an unwelcome book.  The material collected within is great, the bibliography is an amazing resources, and a casual reader will be very happy with it. If you’re working on any projects on spells like this, you’ll probably also want it – but you’ll likely find problematic if you want to find anything in particular, or if you start asking yourself why “Anthrax” and “Charbon (Anthrax)” are two different headings, for instance. Nonetheless, unless you’ve spent a great deal of time building a magical library and are a master of several languages, you probably don’t have a collection like this.

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Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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