Review – Making Magic in Elizabethan England

We’ve had some interesting grimoire releases over the past year, and I’ve been remiss in reviewing them. I’ll see what I can do to catch up, beginning with Frank Klaassen’s Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic, which is part of their Magic in History series. This is particularly welcome, as it is the first set of longer texts published by Klaassen, who is an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan and one of the few academics working on early modern magical texts.

The main body of the book consists of transcriptions of two books. The first, Bodleian MS. Additional B.1., is a late sixteenth-century text, with most of its contents being shorter charms dealing with healing, protection, and theft detection. The second, British Library Harley 2267, was completed in 1600 and includes more material about summoning spirits, synthesizing and expanding upon information from Agrippa’s Three Books, the spurious Fourth Book, the Heptameron, and other sources, all of which were not printed in English at the time.

The first text includes extensive passages in Latin, which are provided in columns with the translation thereto. The original spelling has been preserved, which will make the book more appealing to scholars and students but may make for a more difficult read for laymen. Each is extensively annotated – with endnotes, unfortunately, instead of footnotes which could be referred to at the same time as the text. The illustrations within the text are redrawn in the same way as my readers have seen in Oberon and Of Angels – even James’ choice of font seems to have been used here. Both works are prefaced with an insightful introduction and notes on the manuscript and followed with a table giving the sources of Harley 2267 and a bibliography.

I’d like to share with you one of the passages from the second text dealing with the terrifying illusions spirits will show the magician, which gives you as accurate a depiction of the text as WordPress options allow:

Also many tymes horribles sightes will apeare to feare ye from thy worke, as to see thy father or mother slayne afore thy face, or to thinke ye waues of the Sease shoulde droune the, Or Serpentes, lyons, bulles, beares, or dogges to deuour the, Sumtyme ye judge of mayor of ye Toune to cum vnto the, all which are but illusyons… (pp. 110-111)

I find the notes to be particularly illuminating, even though we are sometimes interested in different aspects. For example, Klaassen places more emphasis on the liturgical connections of the text, and I certainly feel this is a direction I want to pursue more in my future works.

On the other hand, he does not always emphasize the elements that I might. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but it’s worth noting. For example, the first manuscript begins with making two wax images for catching thieves – similar rituals appear in Of Angels and my new Bellhouse book. The introduction notes that this is probably adapted from astrological image magic works, to which I would add that it is quite a robust and enduring operation. Further, the rite includes the names of two suspected thieves, suggesting that the copyist (or that of a previous manuscript in the tradition) was oriented toward practice rather than simply curious.

I do have one reservation for recommending this book: the price. The work is $89.95 for 150 pages of content, so this is priced for libraries more than casual readers. Further, the use of parallel texts may mean that the work cannot be converted to a cheap e-book format, as was done with Klaassen’s previous work, The Transformations of Magic. I can certainly hope that a cheaper, paperback student edition will be available soon, so more people can appreciate just how good this work is.

 

Published in: on September 10, 2019 at 1:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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