Review – Precious Apothecary

More recent literature on the grimoires has often overlooked its connection to devotional and exorcistic literature. Over its history, European ritual magic has transformed from being the province of learned clergy and aspirants thereto, to a much broader audience in terms of geography, gender, language mastery, and faith. With that expansion came a growing lack of familiarity for many readers of the liturgical basis for many of the rituals they were encountering. Thus, a work that brings that connection to the fore is particularly welcome.

Today I’ll be looking at Precious Apothecary: A Catholic Grimoire, a compilation of material from the works of the eighteenth-century Brazilian missionary Ângelo de Sequeira Ribeiro do Prado assembled and edited by José Leitão and published by Avalonia. I will add that I’m a friend of Sorita D’Este, who runs Avalonia, and I have an ongoing publishing relationship with Avalonia. (UPDATE: See here for more details.)

Leitão’s introduction is wonderful at not only discussing Ângelo Sequeira and his work, but also dealing with the thorny issues surrounding liturgical traditionalism, the relevance of definitions of religion and magic, and the various categories of saints. I don’t know if I’ve given Leitão full props for his wonderful commentaries on his books, which are always well-informed and reflective, sharing his own thoughtful impressions of the text in such a way that invites dialogue.

The main text of Precious Apothecary is originally taken from Sequeira’s Botica Preciosa, with additional material from his other books and Erhassison’s Compendio de Devoções Utilissimas, on which Sequeira modeled his practice. Little indication is given within the text as to where the original text for each section might be found, or more than general comments on what was excised. I don’t think this is a major problem myself, but other readers who want to consult the original sources might find it problematic.

Most of the text is Portuguese translated into English, and untranslated passages of Latin. I will not comment on the translation from the Portuguese, as that text is not provided. My only comment on the Latin is that some of the material seems to include misspellings, but I’m cautious about where this comes from without viewing the original source.

The contents display how much Sequeira’s vision encompassed what we would typically think of as both religion and magic. The work includes lengthy sections dealing with Catholic doctrine and practices ranging from confession to the Stations of the Cross to extreme unction. In another part of the book, we are granted a large number of blessings for all manner of items – vestments, incense, roses, tools, and others, and elsewhere is a collection of exorcisms. The work also includes a lengthy alphabetical lists of prayers to various saints. Some of these are aimed at stirring the heart toward devotion or indulgences, but others are intended to ward off enemies or hostile animals, stopping storms, or exorcising spirits. It’s hard to express the sheer amount of such material that appears within this work.

Is this for you? I think it is require reading for anyone trying to grapple with the lines between religion and magic. I think that those practitioners using Catholic imagery will find a great deal of interest here, while those operating within other paradigms might find its mileage varies according to their personal focuses. It’s certainly worthy of consideration.

Published in: on June 23, 2021 at 8:18 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Sequeira’s Botica Preciosa is on line at Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal web site. It’s an easy find and you can down load a textured scan pdf. The entire book is more than 600 pages. If you want the crummy scan then there’s Google Books or as I like to call them Bungled Books.


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