Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 4

Over the past three installments, (part 1, part 2, part 3), we’ve discussed all the different aspects of the Golden Hoard edition of the Sibly Clavis. Now would I recommend it, especially with the Weiser Peterson-edited edition also released that might ? That’s an excellent question, especially as the retail price for both works is comparable.

Once again, I’ll reiterate my point about the binding – I hope the examples I’ve seen are anomalies. Beyond that…

Completists: You’re going to buy both anyway.

People interested in exploring the Key of Solomon tradition: It depends on what aspects you’re interested in, I suppose. Both of them are nineteenth-century examples created for a collector’s market, so you’re not going to get into any antecedents of the tradition. If you really want to examine all of the different aspects of the Key, you should have both texts – and both introductions – handy.

People interested in art and magic: Definitely the Golden Hoard edition.

People who want a greater amount of magical material: Golden Hoard again.

People interested in reading about nineteenth-century occultism: Both, as one may cover the gaps in the other.

People interested in magical diagrams: It may surprise you, but sometimes people interested in practicing magic read this blog. For those interested in practical applications, you’ll probably want the Weiser edition, with its easier-to-draw illustrations.

If you fall into multiple categories, I think you’ll have to make a choice. Or purchase both.

I hope this has helped. I’ve got a few other grimoires to write about, but my read of the Picatrix is going slowly at the moment. I think I may dip into The Key of Necromancy from Enodia Press next.

 

 

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Published in: on April 24, 2019 at 7:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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.

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

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 2

Last time, we looked at the physical design and illustrations of the new Golden Hoard Clavis, in comparison with other publications of Clavis materials likely originating in John Denley’s shop. Next, we should cover the content, looking mainly at the Golden Hoard edition in comparison to Joseph Peterson’s Weiser edition.

The two books start out in quite a similar fashion. Following the prefaces, we have complete editions of the Clavis, with full instructions on how to consecrate planetary talismans with planetary timing, tools, circles, and incantations. Next come descriptions and illustrations of talismans for each of the seven planets, as well as spiritual experiments to summon Birto, Vassago, Agares, and Bealpharos. The Wheel of Wisdom is a chart of planetary correspondences, and both volumes add thereafter a copy of A Secret and Complete Book of Magic Science, a book that Hockley seems to have claimed credit for creating.

At this point, the manuscript reproduced in the Weiser edition ends, but the Golden Hoard version continues. We have a treatise on crystallomancy, which should be familiar to readers of The Rosicrucian Seer. We have two compilations of miscellaneous magical procedures, including the ever-popular raising of the spirit Oberion. This material often reflects what’s in the Experimentum – although it doesn’t cover everything therein. It certainly doesn’t follow the same order as the Experimentum, and we also see additional material, such as elaborate love talismans and a procedure to make a magical bell, added. It also adds a treatise on geomancy, probably taken from Heydon’s Theomagia, and some magical tables showing the correspondences of the numbers one through eight. The table for number nine is drawn but blank, raising some interesting questions as to the creation process for this book.

I hesitate to call this a more “complete” Clavis, as this implies a thematic unity which I think is not present here, but Skinner and Clark’s book contains a wonderful selection of occult treatises from material. If you regularly buy Teitan and Caduceus Books, much of it will be known to you already, but it still has items you won’t see elsewhere. If you aren’t in that position, this will catch you up on most of it.

Following this is the introduction, which is placed after the text for reasons that remain unclear to me. Skinner and Clark provide us with a commentary on each section of the manuscript. Next to be covered are brief notes on the French and English sources for the document, and then a more-or-less thorough list of the manuscripts discovered from the tradition.  This follows the same order as Peterson provides in the introduction to the Weiser edition, making it easy to see where further research has revealed more information on the same works. Biographies of Sibley, Denley, Robert Cross Smith (the first “Raphael”), Hockley, F. G. Irwin, and Robert Thomas Cross round it out.

I have several comments on this section, which will follow in my next installment.

 

Published in: on April 4, 2019 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 1

(Before I begin, it’s important to note a potential slight conflict of interest. I have tried from time to time to get one of the beautiful Sibly Claves – the one at the Senate House Library, from which my Experimentum was extracted – published. It’s never gotten beyond the “hey, I think this would be neat” phase with any publishers, but I’ll let readers decide whether this is important as the review progresses.)

Golden Hoard has just released its latest work, The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic. The work is a reproduction of the National Library of Israel’s MS Yah. Var. 18, an early nineteenth-century Key of Solomon and product of the manuscript workshop of London bookseller John Denley. Previous editions, reproducing manuscripts from private collections, have been issued, one from Ben Fernee’s Caduceus Books, and the other from Weiser edited by Joseph Peterson. I’ve also published a segment of one of the more elaborate ones as the Experimentum.

In this review, I’ll be talking about what makes the Peterson and Golden Hoard editions different, and give an assessment of each. (I’ll set aside the Caduceus Books, as they are long out of print.)

First, though, we need to talk about the binding.

Josiah Bacon mentioned in the comments that his copy came with serious damage to the binding. Sadly, mine did as well, with the book block tearing away from the cover even before I opened the package. I was able to replace it through Amazon with a copy that is holding up better. I also looked at a copy at Enchantments in NYC that was in good shape. My recommendation is to check any copy before you purchase it in a store, or order from sellers who have clear return and replacement policies.

(Also, to be clear, my copy has the standard binding, and not the special leather-bound editions that are sold directly from Golden Hoard, which I have not seen.)

As for the art… this is a stunning book. The previous Keys published are visually impressive but still workmanlike, with the emphasis being on penmanship and accuracy. What the Golden Hoard edition presents instead is what must have been the deluxe version, with copious use of multicolored inks, elaborate illustrations to the point of gaudiness, and pages upon pages of additional content. We have two such manuscripts so far, the one at the National LIbrary of Israel and another in the Harry Price collection of the Senate House Library (the basis of the Experimentum).

I’m going to be reproducing (badly) some illustrations from different editions, to give you a better idea of what to look for. First, let’s look at “The Magic Ring” in the Weiser edition:

 

Weiser The Magic Ring Diagram

Here’s the same diagram in the Golden Hoard:

IMG_7219

Let’s look at the pentacle (actually a repurposed magic circle) for Friday, first from Weiser:

IMG_7215

Now from the Golden Hoard edition:

IMG_7216

You’ll note that the illustrations in the latter obscure the origin of the piece in a standard Heptameron-style magical circle, and that it is incorrectly labeled as being the seal from Thursday there. Thus, occasional inaccuracies worked into the deluxe edition.

How does this compare to the Senate House version – at least to what’s published in the Experimentum? Let’s take a look. Here’s the Knot of Hercules from Caduceus:

IMG_7222

And now from Golden Hoard:

IMG_7221

Yah. Var. 18 does appear to be in better condition, as you can see. Also, it’s not clear as to whether one of these is more “accurate” than the other, although the one from Experimentum does appear somewhat more like a traditional magical diagram.

Next time, we talk about the manuscript’s content.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Dan Reviews The Testament of Solomon – Recension C

Testament+of+Solomon+HBOver a decade ago, when I was doing more non-paid writing, I posted an entire series on the Testament of Solomon, breaking down different aspects of that famous work on demonology and spirit summoning approximately from the fourth century. I knew there were copies from later periods that included more magical material, but I lacked both access to them and the means to read the Greek. Now, Hadean Press has filled that gap with its edition of the Testament of Solomon: Recension C, in which Brian Johnson translates and contextualizes this particular manuscript sub-tradition.

What follows is based on a hardback review copy. It’s a handsome book, and it’s a shame there aren’t more – but you can still pick up a paperback edition.

For such a slim volume, there’s a great deal of material packed within. After David Rankine’s foreword, Johnson dives into the significance of the manuscript, the translation, and its context within Byzantine magic. This will likely be complex for people who are not already familiar with the Testament, but those who have a basic level of knowledge will find this material illuminating and helpful, as it sets this particular tradition in the broader context of the Testament while delving into what sets it apart.

Following this is the translation itself, taken from McCown’s edition of the Testament and supplemented with reference from Harley MS 5596, from the British Library, and Parisinus Graec. MS 2419, from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Johnson omits the material that’s appeared in other editions, such as that of Duling or those available online, in favor of concentrating on the text unique to this particular tradition. The Greek text does not appear with this; interested individuals are referred to the link above.

The centerpiece of that material is a lengthy spirit list, with fifty-two entries, similar to those you might be familiar with from the Goetia and the Book of Oberon. Each one is given the number of other spirits they control, their function, and their seals from both of the manuscripts. Given the interest in these lists, I think many readers will be keen on getting to these. On the other hand, they might be slightly disappointed that these lists don’t match up well with those from other sources – and that the sigils don’t even agree between the two manuscripts. All of these are annotated with detailed footnotes on the translation and the origin of various elements of the composite text.

The work concludes with representations of the Seals of Solomon and a brief note on the spirit Belet. The work has a bibliography, but no index.

I enjoyed this work. I think it would have been possible to scale up with the Greek text, the remainder of the Testament, or other elements, but the decision not to makes the work available sooner to readers in an affordable format. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Greek or Byzantine magic, or in spirit lists, and the low cost means it will be welcome to many readers interested in ritual magic from antiquity to the early modern period.

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Dan Reviews The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, found himself in a difficult situation. Swedish forces had captured and imprisoned his brother, the Archduke Maximilian. His freedom must be obtained at any cost. What he needed was an agent – a man of intelligence and skill, a master of secrets and covert action, perhaps even one who dabbled in the arts of magic. The emperor knew exactly the man for the job.

At this point, my readership is probably assuming that he sent for John Dee. In fact, it was Abraham Colorni, a Jewish polymath from Mantua whose biography forms a crucial part of Harvard lecturer Daniel Jütte’s work The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800.

As some of you may recall, Dee spent a great deal of effort trying to get an audience with the emperor, only to harangue him about his need to repent. As for Colorni, the emperor invited him to travel from Italy to Prague and set up a special meeting with him after a few weeks. Colorni spent three hours talking to the emperor about topics ranging from arquebuses to gambling, and never got around to mentioning the rescue of his brother.  The ambassador from Ferrara was appalled – and Colorni ended up with the emperor as his patron for the next nine years, as the archduke’s return was negotiated through diplomatic channels.

The overall focus of Jütte’s work is on the role of Jews in the “economy of secrets.” Today secrecy is usually viewed negatively, but at the time the possession and judicious revelation of secrets could bring an individual fame and fortune. Christian prejudice often endangered local Jewish populations and barred them from entry into particular professions, training, and status. Yet this prejudice came with a respect for the Jewish people as masters of secrets in many different realms, ranging from the economic to the technological to the magical. Particular Jews who were knowledgeable and savvy could combine this with training and talent to maneuver themselves into positions of authority and influence in the broader society – although a high profile brought danger due to both intrigue and anti-Semitism.

The Age of Secrecy does not dwell on any particular topic of Jewish expertise in depth, but instead it touches on their activity in a wide variety of fields – technology, espionage, alchemy, magic, etc. – that shows wide-ranging and impressive accomplishments in a world in which the dominant culture treated them with hate and mistrust. All of these are illustrated with enjoyable anecdotes gleaned from the work of other scholars and archival research.  My favorite was learning about Isaac Sanguineti, who repeatedly had run-ins with the Inquisition, as summoning Lilith was said to be his personal specialty.

Half of the book is about Abraham Colorni. If that names seems familiar, it’s due to his commission from the Duke of Mantua to translate the Clavicula Salomonis, or Key of Solomon, into Italian. We don’t get too many specifics on how this came about, but apparently Colorni was able to turn this to his advantage. By attaching himself to the reputation of Solomon, he was able to expand his own reputation and influence. For example, Jütte thinks it likely that the Key‘s magic to free prisoners might have directly led to the Emperor’s initial audience with Colorni. I’m pressed for time here, so I need to cut this off – which, for those who read the book, is a serious injustice to all of Colorni’s skills, ranging from engineering to prestidigitation to arms manufacturing.

The book ends with an emphasis on two key points. First, when considering the advances of human learning, we should look to the economy of secrets as well as to the universities and societies that emphasized openness of information while excluding key groups of individuals from their membership. Second, that the importance of research into Jewish intellectuals and inventors in Europe should not cause us to set aside their frequent explorations into magic, alchemy, and other topics still considered less reputable that they pursued alongside other areas of expertise.

In short, this is a great book, and you can probably find it for 75% off the cover price. If you’re interested in the history of magic in early modern Europe, or just want to learn more about how the Key of Solomon came down to us, this is a must.

 

Published in: on February 12, 2019 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Metaphysical Spiritual Philosophy: Discourses through the Magic Mirror

Teitan Press has just released its latest publication in its Hockley series, Metaphysical Spiritual Philosophy: Discourses through the Magic Mirror with Eltesmo and Emma Louisa Leigh, from the Manuscripts of Frederick Hockley.

As with other crystal-gazers from the annals of magic, Frederick Hockley made extensive use of scryers who would see spirits and report them. This collection reprints the work of two of these scryers. One was Emma Louisa Leigh, a young girl and family friend who made contact with a spirit known as the Crowned Angel, along with another known as Eltesmo. Emma died young, leaving Hockley to seek other seers. One of these was a Mrs. Lea, who allowed Hockley to reach out to Emma.

This book collects two spirit operations. The first is a lengthy spiritual treatise dictated by Emma from Eltesmo. The second are a series of conversations between Hockley and the now-spiritual Emma, in which they discuss the afterlife and Emma’s continued concerns about the material world. These are provided both as transcripts and as black and white facsimiles of the original texts.

Alan Thorogood provides his usual excellent introduction, in this case passing over the basics of Hockley’s life to delve into these particular scrying sessions and Hockley’s cosmology of the afterlife. The only omission that I noted was a discussion of the Hockley material at the Library of Congress, which includes a drawing of a talisman of Eltesmo that was sitting on my desk when I received the book.

If you’re familiar with the usual tropes and content of channeled and spiritually-received material, you have a good idea of what you’ll encounter here. Those seeking profound or revelatory material will be disappointed, but those who are interested in the history of either nineteenth-century magic or spiritual contact literature should seek out this work.

Published in: on December 27, 2018 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s Not All about the Drugs, People – But Sometimes It Is: Some Thoughts on Bennett’s Liber 420

Yes, I’m going to talk about drugs and occultism. Look out, everyone!

The immediate prompt for this is the release of Chris Bennett’s Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs, and the Occult, which quotes a couple of my own works, namely Oberon and Experimentum. This book is nearly eight hundred pages, so I’m making these judgments on only a few segments of the book: the chapter on the Picatrix, the chapter on ritual magic, and part of the section on fairies.

From what I’ve seen, Bennett’s work must be approached with some care. He tends to toss in all sorts of material, regardless of origin. You’ll get one section consisting of quotes from outdated, sensationalistic potboiler authors, and another in which he extensively quotes David Attrell, one of the translators of the upcoming PSU Press scholarly edition of the Picatrix. He’s thorough enough that he catches a lot of good material, but that thoroughness sometimes compels him to use sources that he should really be tossing out. Is he seeking to impress readers with sheer volume? I don’t know, but if he cut out a good amount of material, he would have a much better book that would make a stronger case and that I’d have an easier time recommending to people.

With that caveat… once you wade through most of this stuff, Bennett makes points that are well-researched and documented, such as:

  • The Picatrix, on several occasions, recommends the use of psychotropic substances, and this book had considerable influence on Trithemius, Agrippa, and other early modern authors.
  • Psychotropic substances show up in the literature of ritual magic in the early modern period.
  • Many practitioners of magic in the 19th century occult revival made use of such substances in conjunction with catoptromancy, or mirror divination.

Bennett does a good job of documenting all of these. There are some odd errors – he refers to Hockley writing a book after the date of his death, and one of the quotes attributed to me comes from a book’s marketing material – but on the whole we have a compelling argument for all of these.

What I chiefly disagree with is the argument derived from the second point. Let’s take the main passage quoted in Liber 420 from Oberon:

Cannabis [hemp;]. Anoint thee with the juice of cannabis and the juice of archangel [“white nettle”] and before a mirror of steel call spirits, and thou shalt see them and have power to bind and to loose them.

Coriander. Coriander gathereth spirits together. A fume being made thereof with Apio167 nisquio [jusquianus, or “henbane”] and lazias168 cictuta [cicuta, or “water hemlock”] urgeth spirits and therefore, it is said, herba spirituum.

Both of these constitute only a few lines. Should we dismiss them because of their brevity? Certainly not. Yet Oberon runs over five hundred pages of text, with many operations for dealing with various spirits, and none of the others call for the use of cannabis. This is reflected in many of the other manuscripts I’ve seen.

(It would also be useful to have some pharmacological insight into some of these procedures. What strains of marijuana were available at the time, and do they reflect the dosages that modern ones contain? An educated opinion on the dosage of THC necessary for hallucinations if applied topically to the face (and, I assume, the mucus membranes) would have been welcome, for instance. It is possible for a substance with pharmaceutical properties to be used for a symbolic value without it being used in sufficient quantities or in an ineffectual manner, and Bennett’s argument would be stronger if he had addressed this point.)

The presence of these substances in some references, and their absence in the vast majority, are both necessary to understanding how these substances fit into ritual magic of the period. Emphasizing one or the other says more about our contemporary debates about psychotropic substances than anything else.

But what about the visions and scenes that accompanied scrying sessions?

Bennet quotes Giovanni Caputo’s “Archetypal-Imaging and Mirror-Gazing” (read here), and a few lines in particular stands out:

Recently, empirical research found that gazing at one’s own face in the mirror for a few minutes, at a low illumination level, produces the perception of bodily dysmorphic illusions of strange-faces. Healthy observers usually describe huge distortions of their own faces, monstrous beings, prototypical faces, faces of relatives and deceased, and faces of animals. (Bennett p. 381)

(Sidebar: In line with what I said about thoroughness, this particular chapter of Bennett also compiles a great deal of information about magical uses of mirrors, if you like that sort of thing.)

Bennett never returns to discuss the implications of this passage, but its importance needs to be underscored. Although we tend to focus on altered states of consciousness caused by pharmaceutical means, scientists have found a wide range of other causes that might also induce these effects. Understanding the grimoires as a whole means recognizing all of these possibilities.

This is where Bennett runs into difficulties. For example he complains that Stephen Skinner “seems to disregard the role of psychoactive substances in magic altogether, even in regards to fumigation, which he suggests was really based on good and bad smells.” With the exceptions noted above, I would agree with Skinner’s assessment of suffumigation as a whole.

Where the book really goes off the rails, however, is in Aaron Leitch’s foreword. As we’ve discussed before, Aaron spent some time in his Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires unsuccessfully arguing for the role of psychotropics in magic. Now he admits that, “The only thing I couldn’t do – at the time I was writing – was point to a specific spell in the European texts that directly included the use of such hallucinogens.”

Yet he can’t let the point go – “Why wouldn’t the grimoire authors routinely mention [drugs]?”, he asks. To me, the answer is pretty clear, but Aaron wants to pursue it further. He does also mention that “listing belladonna as an ingredient in an incense won’t likely be the crime that gets you lynched in a text that tells you how to conjure demons to cure your enemies.” It’s questionable how often anyone would have been the victim of mob violence because someone read his or her book of magic – a quick search turns up one example from the fifth century – but this is otherwise correct.

Yet he’s not done. Aaron makes a supposition and leaps straight to a conclusion: it’s about cultural norms!

And this is the same reason why the hallucinogenic drugs are rarely mentioned in the grimoires, and never appear directly as ingredients in any summoning of divination ritual. Their absence is just more of the author’s insistence that his magick isn’t like those people’s – those vile worshipers of devils who take strange drugs and dance naked in the moonlight! Never! (p. ix.)

So, let’s summarize Aaron’s argument. For early modern practitioners, summoning demons or calling upon the devil to harm others, compel women into sex, and destroy property was perfectly fine, but they didn’t write about drugs because people might think poorly of them.

I’d like to suggest my own standard for evaluating such material. Explicit references to psychotropic substances should be recognized, especially when the method of administration is consistent with what we know about their effects. Otherwise, let’s not add them in. I think that Bennet has demonstrated how much material this still gives us for conversation.

Published in: on December 2, 2018 at 8:27 pm  Comments (2)  

Review: Skinner and Rankine’s A Cunning Man’s Grimoire

Golden Hoard has put out many books of great utility to all of us interested in early modern works of magic. This one represents a return of both Stephen Skinner and David Rankine as co-editors, the first such effort since The Grimoire of St. Cyprian in 2009. You can pick up cloth editions or leather-bound ones straight from the publisher.

What sets A Cunning Man’s Grimoire apart from previous releases is its excursion into the realm of the magical miscellany, texts which contain a wide variety of different operations and pieces of information, rather than a unified magical system. It’s an area that should be familiar with those who’ve read the Book of Oberon, but it’s a departure for Golden Hoard.

What’s even more interesting about the book is that Skinner and Rankine’s introduction indicates they’re not certain how the book will be received by their audience, both in terms of the organization and the large number of Christian prayers that constitute it. I’m not sure why that would be the case, but both of them are much more tuned into the magical community – and probably more patient – than I am. Suffice to say that anyone who raises issues about a seventeenth-century magical miscellany being disorganized and Christian needs to learn more about such works.

There’s some uncertainty about the origin of the book. There’s some discussion at the beginning about whether Thomas Allen (1540-1632), a tutor from Oxford’s Gloucester Hall. (He’s also a likely owner of the book I just finished for Llewellyn.) I think we might have some confusion here between two different Allens, as dates written in the manuscript are all decades after his death, but this might bear more investigation.

The bulk of the book is a wide-ranging collection of material, rendered in the original spelling. We have collections of experiments dedicated to summoning spirits, sections on astrological timing, tables of planetary angels, spells for fighting animals and theft, and workings for the mansions of the moon. All of this is illustrated with diagrams from the original text, and supplemented further with footnotes, a short index, and a lengthy bibliography.

At times we also see brief commentaries from the copyist on some rites, especially the spirit conjurations, including those of Birto, Askariel, and the three horsemen. He seems to be of two minds about it – keen on reproducing the rituals, but seeming concerned about whether they are appropriate for a holy individual.  This, to me, is the most interesting material, as it reveals the motivations of at least one author who wrote in the genre.

Thus, if you’re interested in magical miscellanies, or early modern astrological magic, or charms and similar topics, you’ll enjoy this book. Check it out.

 

 

 

Published in: on September 6, 2018 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – Joe Peterson’s Secrets of Solomon: A Witch’s Handbook from the Trial Records of the Venetian Inquisition

Secrets SolomonJoe Peterson’s new book, Secrets of Solomon, is now out and attracting some attention. If you’d like to purchase it, it’s available through Amazon in paperback and through Lulu in hardback. I ended up buying both – the hardback for my shelf, and the paperback for marking up and carrying around where it can get beat up. I don’t usually make that sort of purchase unless I want to make sure I’m engaging with the text as much as possible, which this work definitely deserves.

Secrets of Solomon is a composite work, in which Joe has painstakingly correlated and compiled several different manuscripts to make a central work. The most complete of these was a manuscript taken from two men tried by the Venetian Inquisition in 1636, but he also covers six other manuscripts, including one from the collection of Gerald Gardner (which seems to have arrived too late to impact his writings on Wicca).

The work itself can be broken down into four parts, which I would briefly describe as follows:

  1.  A precursor of the Grimorium Verum, providing interesting variants on the spirit lists and procedures therein. It begins with three chief spirits, who are aided by a panoply of lesser beings who may also be called upon. Fans of Jake Stratton-Kent’s work will be interested to hear that the book defines these as chthonic and possibly infernal spirit, as opposed to those of the air and fire. It also provides a series of short operations connected with the spirit list, to be performed after one has made an agreement with the spirits, which seems to have been replaced in GV with a miscellaney of experiments.
  2. The spirits of the celestial spheres and the elements are described here, who are served by entities known as the “Amalthai.” We have a long series of instructions for approaching the greater spirits through ritual, along with a set of talismans to be employed toward various ends after the initial content is made.
  3. A work describing operations to deal with the various spirits of the days of the week. This derives from the Heptameron, but delves much more into the powers of individual angels and spirits than that work.
  4. An explanation of creating a “stone,” or clay image, for success in magic, with further notes on various magical techniques taken from pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.

I’ll comment on the implications of this list in my conclusion. The book also has a number of different items of interest: magical words that are actually just misunderstood English, separate instructions for a particular magical experiment based on the sex of the operator, a demon that kills Americans by slapping them with its nose, etc.

One item that deserves mention is the presence in the second section of spirits known as the “Amalthai.” Peterson proposes that this might be a reference to the mythological Greek goat or nymph Amalthea, who nursed Zeus after Rhea hid him away from Kronos. There does appear to be a linguistic similarity between the names, but there’s no other clear link between these spirits and the mythological figure. Perhaps a future manuscript discovery will clarify these issues.

As you can expect from Joe Peterson, all of this is tied together with a thorough introduction, copious footnotes, a list of manuscripts, a comprehensive bibliography, and multiple indices. The only potential omission would be notes for the first section that illustrated the ties to Verum more closely. If you’re interested in that connection, you’ll probably want to keep both books on hand for reference.

I would like to attach one caveat to the book: it’s not the end (or beginning) of the story. If you read my description of the four parts above, you might be wondering how these sections fit together. Simply put, they don’t; the original compiler put them in one work without trying to write connections. What this means is that these works – which date back to the mid-seventeenth century – were likely transmitted on their own for quite some time before being collected.  Thus, Joe’s book is wonderful, but I hope it serves as the springboard for future revelations that will continue to challenge our knowledge of early modern books of magic.

Published in: on July 28, 2018 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)