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.

Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Dan, Love your blog and published works! I was wondering if you could expand upon your review here with a few additional comments. I’m trying to find out if this book presents any never-before-seen grimoiric content. Things such as alternate versions of talismans or seals from Solomonic material or similar… I’m trying to see more of the positive notes from your review but it seems like the book simply a pick n’ mix of folk magic- more of an ‘encyclopedia’ of his favorite mentions of healing from disparate sources. What, if anything makes this book uniquely valuable? Any further feedback if you have time would be highly apprenticed 🙂

  2. […] Yesterday I got a message from Tony, who asks regarding my review of Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells: […]

  3. […] translation of Le Livre des guérisons et des protections magiques), based on Dan Harms’ review on the latter’s blog, “Papers Falling from an Attic Window.” Finally having some […]

  4. Hello, Mr. Harms, and thanks for bringing this volume to my attention; I’m one of those readers who likely wouldn’t have heard of it without your post. That said, I wonder if you or any of your other readers have compared (m)any of the items presented by Prof. Lecouteux with their original sources? I decided to look up the original of one of the charms a short while ago after something in the wording made me wonder if the matter would be clarified by checking the source—what I found was more than I expected. By chance, it seems I’d happened on a particularly poor choice to examine: for whatever reason, Lecouteux had omitted the entirety of the instructions, preparations, etc., for the charm in question (no. 64 in the English translation, no. 201 in the French), without any mention of the omission, presenting instead only the part to be recited, which renders the whole thing useless from the folk magic perspective. Left wondering if this were merely a one-time oversight or indicative of a larger, more prevalent problem, I decided to go through all 17 of the items Lecouteux had selected from that volume since I already had the source at hand. What I found was, again, quite a surprise. Of those 17, I think only 7 qualify as faithful, complete translations of their source; the rest present a bewildering array of errors of varying degree—of them, I think six can be considered invalid on their face, and two others are so problematic they may well be. For any interested in the details, I’ve been chronicling the research on my blog, with complete transcriptions and translations from the original source for ready comparison; while the full study has spanned eight posts, the most recent (“Wlislocki 1/Lecouteux: Summary of Findings,” 9 February) summarizes the lot, discussing the salient issues with the problematic entries and linking each back to the post that presented it in full, hopefully making the information useful and easily accessible to other researchers. I don’t know that I’ll have time to examine any of his other sources to this same level of detail, but if you or others have looked into them, I would love to hear about it; hopefully they prove more reliable and these were, somehow, merely an out-of-character fluke. Thanks for your time!

    • Hey, Daniel,

      I did see your post, and read it with interest. I can admit I haven’t had time to track down Lecouteux’s particular sources for each charm. I do know that past efforts to check his sources have revealed the material referred to as accurate.

      I know it’s troublesome, but it might be useful to your case to add Lecouteux’s translation to a third column alongside the original and your translation. I don’t have his book with me at the moment, and that would be helpful for other readers.

      You might also add the URL for your blog, to guide others to it. I tracked it down, but it took information that’s not in your comment.

  5. Many thanks! I had heard the professor’s name and works mentioned many times, so I was surprised by this discovery and hoped, on what I’d heard, that the others were better done.

    I had considered including Lecouteux’s text. While quoting the Wlislocki German original source of 1893 and my own translations are fine, naturally, given the number of charms I was analyzing, I wasn’t certain I could get by with quoting that much of his book under Fair Use? I’m not sure what the limit for that would be. I quoted a few sentences here and there where I wanted to draw attention to something specific, but simply wasn’t sure how to handle the larger pieces, esp. since some of them, like the “grumus merdæ” one (no. 541, iirc), aren’t small. Also, in cases where the issue was more what he omitted than what he included (no.s 64 and 212, off the top of my head), the quotation didn’t seem as helpful. Suggestions are welcome; I’ve been writing up a lot of this between rounds of chemo and recovery sessions, so I might not have been at my most lucid haha.

    Sorry about the URL; I wasn’t sure if the comment settings would allow the inclusion of an URL in the comment itself. Awkwardly, if not logged in w/ WordPress, the comment forms usually allow one to leave an email and website in the comment form, but if WordPress notices you’re using an email address they have registered or you’re already logged in, they remove the fields and expect your profile to provide the information. Not an ideal solution, but they have their quirks. The earlier trackback in these comments (referring to the translation of /Le Livre des guérisons/ etc., Lecouteux’s original French text) leads to the first post in my series, but for simplicity, this URL is for the last/summary post, which can link back to all the others and therefore might be the best place for others to start:

    Thanks again for your time!

  6. […] had a nice discussion in the comments with Frater A. P. regarding my review of Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells.  He’s been looking over Lecouteux’s translations in the book taken from Dr. Heinrich […]

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