Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 3

In our last installment, I promised some thoughts on the Clavis’ introduction. Let’s begin with some personal observations.

Skinner and Clark note regarding The Book of Oberon that “[t]he name change from ‘Oberion’ to ‘Oberon” was a bit of artistic license by the publishers in an effort to make a Shakespearean connection.” (p. 304) This was actually a bit of literary sleight of hand on my part in order to make it clear that the book did include as a major draw rituals calling upon a spirit who was identified therein as the King of the Fairies and had a name very similar to Oberon. I wouldn’t have made the same call in other manuscripts including Oberion, in which his ties to the fairy realm are much more tenuous, as I’ve learned since. Plus, if I’d called it The Book of Oberion, I’d be getting constant messages from people on the Internet asking if it was a typo.

With regard to the list of Clavis manuscripts in both Peterson and Skinner and Clark, I should note that Skinner and Clark omit a manuscript included in Peterson that I eventually tracked down. Of course, I haven’t talked about that and they couldn’t have known that, but it does illustrate that a researcher into these manuscripts will want to have both works on hand for consultation.

Both of the above should not be held against the book, as the authors do not have access to my mind. What troubles me more some egregious errors perpetrated in the introduction. For example, Skinner and Clark discuss the Society of Esoteric Endeavour edition of the Clavis, the original of which bears the date 1868:

On this we are in agreement with Ben Fernee… who also believes this manuscript was more than likely commissioned by Denley… (p. 322)

I can’t speak for Ben, but Denley passed away in 1842, twenty-six years before the date the manuscript was copied.

Elsewhere, the introduction states that Abraham Yahuda’s Clavis, the gorgeous one reproduced within, “may have even been part of the Isaac Newton auction. We can only speculate at this time, but Newton’s manuscripts did contain texts on alchemy, so why not one on magic?” (p. 325) It’s not clear whether the implication is that Newton might have owned a manuscript transcribed approximately a century after his death; I certainly hope this refers to the collection.

We have another oddity in the discussion of the manuscript’s English sources. As readers may know, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) was re-released in 1665, well after his death, with additional magical procedures added by the publisher. Skinner and Clark provide a list of five items from that book, ending with the statement that “Scot would have been appalled.” Without any unholy necromancy, I can say that he definitely would not – everything on that list also appears in the 1584 edition.

I also find the material on Sibly to be problematic, based upon Susan Mitchell Sommers’ expensive but excellent work, The Siblys of London: A Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian Britain. Skinner and Clark do use it considerably, but sometimes particular points are elided over. For instance, Skinner and Clark mention how Sibly “adroitly and profitably used his knowledge of Masonic careers to further the career of a local politician” in Ipswich (p. 338). What is not stated is that Sibly started a Masonic charitable institution and absconded from town with the collected funds intended for the destitute. To me, this is a key point in Sibly’s life necessary for the assessment of his character.

A more troubling omission from the Clavis is Sommers’ take on Sibly as an author. Skinner and Clark state that the preface is “probably originally written by Sibley” (p. 281), that the translation of the Clavis “was done (or caused to be done) by Ebenezer Sibley” (p. 309), and the footnotes later in the transcript are often ascribed to him (e.g., pp. 400-1). Yet how much credit can we give Sibly for this book? Sommers provides the following important context:

A page-by-page analysis of the fourth part of An Illustration, as well as of two of his longer works, the 783-page Culpeper’s British Physician with its attached The Medical Part, and the nearly 400-page A Key to Physic suggests Sibly was actually the author of only a fraction of those 4,000 pages, perhaps as little [sic] 10 or 20 percent. Further, much of what is clearly original composition is transitional material, included to join more substantial borrowed sections. (p. 157)

So, let’s put some caveats on this. All of us acknowledge that Sibly did not write the Clavis – and neither did Solomon – and the material included in these manuscripts is clearly a compilation. We can’t really give him too hard a time for reprinting Culpepper, so perhaps that should be removed from Sommers’ assessment above. Still, Sommers found Ebenezer’s borrowing so pervasive that she dedicates an entire chapter of her work to just that topic.

I’d like to tie this together with my previous concerns about “Doctor Rudd.” To be clear, I see nothing inherently wrong with assuming Sibly had this Clavis translated and compiled, or that “Doctor Rudd” really did come up with the magical system in the Goetia appearing under his name. What is problematic is that work clearly taken from other sources appears under both author’s names, and that proponents of Rudd and Sibly rarely engage with such evidence when asserting their positions. Let’s talk about the borrowing in these cases, and then give reasons for or against whether it happened in the other material for which these authors take credit.

Next time – my recommendations.

Next time – my recommendations.

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Published in: on April 13, 2019 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for this excellent analysis, Dan. Have been reading the Clavis and referring back to your posts. Very much looking forward to your upcoming Recommendations!


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