Review – A Modern User’s Guide to the Black Pullet

Newcomb Black Pullet

You all probably thought I’d never get around to this, did you? Indeed, Papers is a blog of its word, even if that word is spoken many months away from the deed.

I’ve dealt with the Poule Noire, or the Black Pullet in previous posts, including recently posting a review of the Black Letter Press edition. (If you aren’t familiar with the original, I’d suggest reading the background there first.) Now we have A Modern User’s Guide to The Black Pullet from Jason Augustus Newcomb, who has written several books dealing with magic which I cannot say I have read. The book was originally funded through an Indiegogo page, where it did not fund completely but seems to have been delivered nonetheless. The work is not available on his website, although one can find many of the talismans and a circle intended for use with it.

This paperback volume – apparently the Indiegogo featured a limited-edition color hardcover – includes a lengthy section on the Black Pullet‘s history and methods for magicians to work with it, followed by a new translation of the work from the French. The whole is rounded out with five appendices providing various ancillary materials. It does not include an original French text, a bibliography, an index, or (oddly) pages that are numbered on both sides, but it does include a good number of footnotes.

The first section of the book is over seventy pages, which might have been better served broken up into short chapters. Most of this part is dedicated to considerations regarding performing ceremonial or ritual magic in general and the Black Pullet’s operations in particular. It’s likely most of this will be familiar to the book’s intended audience, but I’m not always the best judge of such things. To his credit, Newcomb does observe that it’s difficult for a modern magician to enter into the mental mindset of a person from centuries ago, which is an important point when approaching such books.

Within Newcomb’s system, ritual magic consists of ten fundamental steps, starting with preliminary procedures and ending with the license to depart. Newcomb is aware that the Black Pullet does not include all of these, and indeed many magical texts do not, which he says is “either because they wish to veil the information from the reader or more often, because they assume the reader is already well versed in the correct procedures” (p. 16) He passed over the other possibility: that some of these are not included because they were not followed. For example, Step 8, “Testing the Spirit,” is present in Dee and Gilbert’s diaries, but it’s largely lacking from most grimoires – and it would be the sort of process that would impel magicians to write down various tactics and tricks if it was a common concern. I’m not going to tell practitioners not to take such steps if they think they’re vital to the practice, of course.

Newcomb also deals with the history of the various versions of the Black Pullet that have appeared, including the Poule Noire, Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides, Le Génie et le Vieillard des Pyramides, and another short text entitled Poule Noire that usually accompanies the Veritable Dragon Rouge. His case, that the Poule Noire is the original text from which the others are derived, is a plausible one. I would be more cautious than Newcomb in insisting on the importance of original publication dates, in a genre for which manuscripts and ephemeral publications have been so important. Newcomb observes that many of the talismans from the Trésor are taken freely from a published 1750 Clavis, and I’d have liked to see an analysis of the possible origins of the Poule Noire talismans as well. Nonetheless, it’s a starting point for future explorations.

After this lengthy section comes the translation itself. It seems fine and unremarkable to me – save for a curious decision about translation regarding the spirits our magician commands, translating them as “jinni.” Why?

I translate the French word génie almost exclusively as “jinni” in these pages simply because I believe it is the word least likely to cause confusion, and it fits with the Middle-Eastern tone of this work… (p. 17)

…throughout this work I am generally going to use the word “jinni” instead of “genius” or “genie.” I am doing so despite of the popularity of the word “jinni” in “haunted ring” circles or its mixed associations within the Islamic world. If we are to take any part of the “young soldier’s” story seriously, then “jinni” is the most likely term that the “old man” of the Pyramids was using, and we will leave it at that. (p. 28)

I will definitely not leave it at that. The narrative surrounding the Black Pullet is, as Newcomb admits, a fabrication likely deriving from popular interest in Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in order to lend an air of exoticism to a French magical text. One cannot use the questionable Orientalism from a two-century old document to justify a contemporary choice to use questionable Orientalist terminology that, by the translator’s own admission, doesn’t reflect how the word is used as part of living cultures or how the reader or practitioner’s associations might shift due to this particular translation.

I’m not going to perform a detailed look at the various editions, but I did page through this book, the Weiser edition, Young’s Black Letter Press edition, and this French edition of the Poule Noire to get some idea. Having looked at one or two talismans and the procedure for creating the black pullet, I feel that the Weiser and Newcomb editions were comparable. Young omits some of the framing material, and there are a couple of puzzling decisions made in his text, none of which really affect the procedure much. If someone fluent in both French and English would perform a detailed read of all of these, however, that would be a much better judge of quality.

As for the five appendices, two are various rituals and methods for a practitioner to approach the material in the book. The third is a translation of the shorter Poule Noire text accompanying the Dragon Rouge, as mentioned above, followed with a short section on the occult significance of haggling and chicken eggs. The final one includes some sections from the occult novel Comte de Gabalis, which Newcomb points out as being similar to passages from the Poule Noire. The case would be more compelling if he included the original French texts; otherwise, it’s unclear how much of the similarity derives from the translator’s decisions.

Overall, I think practitioners and those interested in the book’s history will prefer this edition., The Black Letter Press edition is far ahead in presentation (I haven’t seen the Indiegogo color hardcover, so I won’t pass judgment on how that fits in). Finally, the Weiser edition is best for those who want a cheap available copy.

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Published in: on February 20, 2021 at 7:59 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Please I want to read the modern user guide to black pullet

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