Review – The Sworn and Secret Grimoire by the Master Arbatel

The next step on working my way through my massive grimoire backlog is a hardback review copy The Sworn and Secret Grimoire, the first volume in the Night School series, as brought to us by “Count Abaka.” Given that the author is identified as Jake Stratton-Kent on the book blurb on the publisher’s website, this pseudonym likely qualifies as one of the worst-kept secrets in modern occultism. Yet the choice seems to be deliberate, displaying how this and other grimoires are given lengthy questionable pedigrees while simultaneously undercutting any pretensions that we should take those pedigrees too seriously. I like that.

This book is a re-working of The Secret Grimoire of Turiel, which is a grimoire first appearing in the twentieth century, in turn derived from Hockley’s compiled Complete Book of Magic Science from the nineteenth century (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of my review of the latter). Stratton-Kent states in the introduction at the start that he wishes to publish a new edition of Turiel, but found it to be inadequate for his needs, leading to a revised edition. In the spirit of ritual magic traditions, he utilizes the Arbatel, the Grand Albert, the Heptameron, and other sources to compose a relatively straightforward method of invoking planetary spirits assembled from traditional materials.

The procedure is very much a creature of its source materials – Christian elements and prayers, a little Latin lengthy preparations and consecrations of lamens, swords, and other tools -but Stratton-Kent emphasizes the Olympic spirits of the Arbatel and downplays the hierarchical aspects of other ritual magic procedures. The sections and the illustrations of lamens, tools, and circle by my Four Wizards partner S. Aldarnay and Dis Albion fuse together the disparate traditions in a pleasing manner.

Our second section of the book is a discussion of the history and usage of planetary hours, in which each day and night is divided into twelve sections, each assigned to one of the seven traditional planets. Next we have some procedures, sigils, and prayers for planetary magic drawn from the Picatrix, the PGM, and other sources, in order to provide a wider range of tools for this particular topic.

The first appendix describes two different schools of approach to the parts of ritual evocation, one a more traditional one articulated by Stephen Skinner and the other more modern, as presented by Crowley. I think I’m obligated here to say that this does appear in some sources, but the miscellanies sometimes depart widely from this, at least on the page. We then get a discussion of various types of “wandering bishops” and other unorthodox ecclesiastical authorities, with suggestions on how such credentials might be valuable to a ritual magician who – unlike many in the past – has not received holy orders. I’m curious how this relates philosophically to the passage Stratton-Kent repeats earlier from the Arbatel suggesting that magicians are born and not made.

Deciding for whom this book is intended is tricky. Despite Stratton-Kent’s desire to create a simplified procedure, his book presumes the reader is already conversant with the techniques of ritual magic and seeks to pursue planetary magic or refine their own ritual knowledge on the other matters discussed. It won’t please those who want to adhere strictly to an ancient text, but it also may not reflect some modern styles of evocation. I feel that a reader who falls into that box, or who enjoys Jake Stratton-Kent’s writing, should definitely pick it up. I also look forward to further releases in the “Night School” series.

Published in: on August 23, 2021 at 4:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Hell and Fairy Article Online, Quoted in Vice, Grimoire Fakery, The Sun of Knowledge Forthcoming, Medieval Rituals, Etc.

We’re past the Palgrave moratorium, so I’ve put up my chapter “Hell and Fairy: The Differentiation of Fairies and Demons Within British Bitual Magic of the Early Modern Period” on Academia. Please feel free to read and quote from it.

I was quoted in a recent article on the Internet Book of Shadows on Vice.

The latest issue of Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft has two articles of note: one on witch bottles by Ann Thwaite, and a survey by Don Skemer of those lengthy magical roll amulets that no one has tried to publish yet (hint). Check out the Societas Magica site for more information on getting it.

The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle has posted on FB about forged grimoire pages turning up on eBay and auction houses. These are usually single sheets with a demonic figure drawn with mystical symbols of various sorts seeming to fill in the space around them willy-nilly. The closest analogy in actual manuscripts are the images of Oberion with the seals of his counselors about him, as shown in Oberon, but these are usually clearly labeled or noted in the context. Most “demon” figures I’ve seen in manuscripts are freestanding or surrounding by text, when they appear at all. I hope that helps readers to make sensible purchases.

I was going to review Agostino Taumaturgo’s Medieval Rituals of Catholic Exorcism, but I’m going to have to give up on it due to typos. Typos are an unfortunate byproduct of writing, and some will stubbornly persist throughout the editing and proofing process even under careful scrutiny. Yet this work includes many errors, approximately one per page, and many that a simple spellcheck would catch. I gave up after finding a section that had some untranslated passages of Latin left in the middle of the English. I think it would be worth reviewing in a revised edition, but I’m not certain I could recommend it now.

Revelore Press, publishers of Svartkönstbocker, are now releasing a book of selections from the Shams al Ma’arif, a famous grimoire with which I’ve had some interesting encounters (here, here, and here) but never read.

The Sun of Knowledge (Shams al-Ma‘arif) is one of the most revered historical grimoires of the Arabic corpus. Feared by some, hallowed by others, it is one of the most famous – or infamous – books in the Arabic-speaking and Islamicate world. Written in Egypt in the thirteenth century by a Sufi mystic and mage of Algerian origin, the Shams presents the fundamentals of Arabic-Islamic occult work – from spiritual cosmology and astrology (including various particularly lunar magics) to working with spirits and jinn, magical employment of letters and numbers, and the occult applications of the Qur’an – thereby comprising a veritable encyclopedia of Islamicate magical wisdom and formulae. Images and descriptions of amulets and talismans adorn it. Numerous beautiful manuscripts of the Sun of Knowledge have survived, various of which have been used as a basis for this present work.

Never before published in English, this selected translation includes sections of the Sun of Knowledge on the mysteries of the letters, astrological timings, lunar mansions, the ancient Arab beliefs surrounding the stars, planetary matters, astronomy, the angels for and workings pertaining to the four seasons, summoning the jinn, the employment of the names of God for many and varied purposes, the construction of the famed ring of Solomon, and a miscellany of tried-and-true talismans. This selected translation takes a general approach to a much vaster text, and features illustrations, original artwork, and commentary to assist those unfamiliar with Islamic magic and culture. This edition is also ideal for any student of magic or the occult, classical Arabic astrology and astronomy, Islamic esotericism, or Sufism.

I’m somewhat disappointed that it isn’t the entire book – but the entire book is over a thousand pages, so who am I kidding?

Mihai Vârtejaru presents an exploration of the sources of the Hebrew Key of Solomon, which I encourage you to check out.

Pendragon and my Slavic game continue, and I might talk more about them in the future. Stay safe, everyone.

Published in: on August 14, 2021 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Buddhist Magic

My review schedule of historical texts of European magic is overfull – which means it’s time to review Buddhist Magic, by Sam Van Schaik of the British Library. This is a book I purchased myself, and it was certainly worth it.

I’m probably not the best person to review this work. I haven’t dipped too far into Buddhism of any variety, with most of my familiarity coming from the Tibetan side, including The Tibetan Book of the Dead and David-Neel’s Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Thus, someone better read in Buddhism might have a different series of critiques they can draw from the book.

Van Schaik’s overall argument is that Buddhism has been portrayed in the West as a rationalist practice in line with secular thinking and devoid of so-called “superstition.” This is not necessarily reflected in the textual tradition, in which ritual techniques aimed at practical everyday goals intermingle with techniques used purely for spiritual goals. Van Schaik sets out to reveal this other side of Buddhist practice.

But how should we define magic? After a brief discussion of Frazer, Durkheim, and other theorists, Buddhist Magic delves into what is referred to as magic in other times and places, including the Atharvaveda, the library of Ashurbanipal, the magical papyri, the Cairo Geniza, and the grimoires. Van Schaik provides a few pages for each, and I felt the brief coverage was largely fine for each, albeit more focused on similiarities than contrasts among them. Based upon this, he identifies a few traits that point to magic: rituals that point to practical, this-worldly goals that should be accomplished quickly and assembled with other such brief rites in written works. One could debate the particulars, but I think it’s a good place to start.

The next sections cover the various ways in which this “magic” interacts with the moral and medical texts in Buddhist history. Some of this requires some background information on the histories of various Buddhist traditions, which I did not have available to me at the time. It does establish how magic, theology, and medicine all intertwined in texts, stories, and practice reaching far back into the religion’s history.

This leads up to a set of examples: a short treatise of Tibetan magic found near Dunhuang, on the Silk Road, and believed to date to the tenth century. It includes a series of scrying rituals involving a child and dedicated to Garuda, King of the Birds; rituals to control demons called requiring one hundred thousand repetitions of the mantra of the Tibetan queen Bhrikuti, and ceremonies to cure illness among people and animals. Then, there’s one in particular that caught my attention:

Defeather the head of a crow and fill it with seeds, then grow them in dark soil. Then standing in front of it, pour in the milk of a dun cow and rainwater. Once the fruits have opened, cut the flowers and fruits and tie them carefully. Mash them with the milk of a dun cow and anoint your eyes. You will become invisible.

Yes – there’s some interesting parallels to the skull-bean invisibility rite with which most modern grimoire readers will be most familiar from the Grimorium Verum. I’m not going to say that one inspired the other, but it might deserve further research.

If you’re interested in the history of Buddhism or books of magic beyond the European context, it’s definitely worth looking into. Those hoping for a collection of new spells may be disappointed to find that certain mantras and yantras are not given within, but there’s still a great deal to think about here.

Published in: on July 17, 2021 at 7:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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)  

Review: Clavis Goetica

I’m going to leap in the review queue slightly to handle a book sent to me for review: Clavis Goêtica: Keys to Chthonic Sorcery, by Frater Acher and José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal and published by Hadean. This is a review of the hardback, which is currently unavailable but will be re-released this summer. The softcover is currently available.

Frater Acher begins with a discussion of the significance and history of the concept of goetia, or “goeteia,” dealing with its roots in the Greek practice of the itinerant magicians and the goetes. He follows this with a mythic narrative of the interactions between the Idaean Dactyls, spirits and magicians responsible for teaching the civilized arts, the profundity and uncontrolled immensity of the Earth Mother. He then relates this to the appropriation of this energy by ritual magic practitioners, with the goetes serving as a bridge between the boundary-setting magicians and the primordial forces.

I respect the desire to innovate in magical practice, yet it should be said that some historians, including some whom Frater Acher quotes, would disagree with some of his points, including his characterization of “goeteia” as something of a floating term which did not necessarily point to a particular practice. Likewise, one might accept that the core of the practice described here is in personal spiritual gnosis, not in books – but we should also note Plato’s report of itinerant practitioners dealing with souls of the dead utilizing books attributed to Orpheus and Musaeus. None of this stands in the way of a basis of practice, but I’d suggest reading the works Frater Acher cites in this section if you want to get a better handle of the history.

Frater Acher touches on his modern practice of spirit contact within a cave in the Alps – although the spirits have not granted permission to share more than one early operation. He then turns to a discussion of those seeking interactions with spirits in medieval history, including one account from Cesarius of Heisterbach circa 1200, another attributed to the sixteenth-century Christian mystic Johannes Beer, and the Norse tradition of “sitting out” to contact spirits.

The centerpiece of the book, at least from my perspective, is the translation of the brief “Ars Phythonica” text from the Leipzig magical library, which provides two . Frater Acher postulates convincingly that the title is a corruption of “Ars Pythonica,” linking the text back to earlier traditions of female mediumship. He then proceeds to discuss various traditions of the use of skulls for the purposes of divination, ranging from the PGM to the Hygromanteia.

I think much of the material here is intriguing, and it might be worth pursing an expansion on both the seeking out of chthonic spirits and the use of skulls in magic. For example, Scurlock’s Magical Means of Dealing with Ghosts in Ancient Mesopotamia provides rituals for pitting the spirit of a skull against another for protective purposes. Another source not mentioned here is the Picatrix, which includes procedures similar to the folktale of the Maharil he describes.

Frater Acher concludes his analysis by highlighting one particular aspect of the Ars Phythonica:

…the first version further breaks down traditional magical patterns by actively calling upon the help of both celestial and chthonic hierarchies in a single conjuration… Such a deeply pragmatic approach – transcending the traditional polarity between theurgy and goêteia – highlights the essentially shamanic nature of this ritual… Such striking boldness and independence of spirit was just as rare during late medieval times as unfortunately remains today. (p. 125)

So, I was able to come up with three examples of mingled “celestial-chthonic” incantations from The Book of Oberon alone within ten minutes. It’s not necessarily common in rituals, but it’s not unheard of, and I don’t think Oberon is outstanding in this regard.

Overall, I’d be cautious about Frater Acher’s statements about what is “traditional” – traditional for whom? – or what is “shamanic,” or why we should necessarily put those two things in opposition. These labels say a great deal more about how contemporary authors and practitioners view medieval and early modern ritual magic, not to mention other spiritual tradtions, than its source material, which is weird and wonderful stuff filled with patterns that can be broken in exciting ways. Although I wouldn’t rule out that there are norms that some texts might transgress, I think that a broader look at the corpus would be necessary to make any sort of definitive statement along those lines. 

The book ends with an afterward from Sabogal, whose art graces much of this book. Sabogal discusses the magical significance of the head throughout history and in the context of his own art and experience, which ties the work together nicely. The book ends with a bibliiography but no index.

Overall, my reaction to the book is positive. I always welcome an edition of a hitherto-unpublished magical text, and the historical material is intriguing and worthy of further exploration. My concerns arise from the work’s engagement with mythmaking in ways that may be important for creation of magical mindsets but present debatable interpretations of the evidence. Even if that last sentence bothers you, however, I think it’s a worth seeking out and reading.

Published in: on June 5, 2021 at 10:50 am  Comments (2)  

Vaccinated, Kickstarter Non-Starter, Paper Given, Medieval Exorcism, Book Received, Dungeon Crawl Classic Thoughts, More

Above illustration from Paul Huson’s Liber Spirituum, now available here.

I’m now fully vaccinated, having spent two days after the second Moderna shot squirreled away watching a Rocky marathon. It did turn out to be more inspirational and interesting than I had thought it would be.

A little while ago, we had an interesting Kickstarter for a “Hastur Tarot Deck.” The project was fully-funded and featured full colour art for a Tarot deck based on the one that John Tynes and I wrote up for Delta Green: Countdown two decades ago. Trouble was, the publisher hadn’t checked with John or I or Arc Dream, who own the rights. Shortly after someone contacted the Kickstarter to point this out, the whole affair was shut down due to “personal issues.” I believe an official release will be Kickstarted later this year, so Mythos fans should have something to which to look forward.

I’ve been holed up at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, where I gave a talk on saints being conjured – mostly Saint Helen and Saint George, with a side note on the St. Christopher prayer. My thanks to the organizers, and I hope to present again in subsequent years.

In preparation for the paper, the introduction to Florence Chave-Mahir and Julien Véronèse’s Ritual d’exorcisme ou manuel de magie?, a publication of one of the first known exorcistic manuals, dating to the early fifteenth century, that includes sections that are very much in the model of what most readers would typically call “incantations.”

Volume 2 of Golden Hoard’s Ars Notoria seems to be in shipping limbo of some sort, with Amazon asking me to approve the order. I’ve heard that this is only temporary, so there’s no need to worry.

I’ve also received John R. King IV’s new book The Faculty of Abrac, which I believe is a review copy that I will not have time to review. If I were to tell the author something helpful, it would be that an index or more detailed table of contents would probably inspire people, including me, to find the text more accessible.

My quarantine Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign is moving toward its conclusion. It is a fun game, although I feel that around level 5 (which might map roughly to 9-10 in other editions) the whole thing starts to break down, as the truly insane combat-ending spell results become commonplace. I’d suggest that anyone running it also insert a “save on a natural 20” roll, to balance out magicians rolling save difficulties that no one can ever beat.

Our Pendragon game continues well into the Anarchy era. Apparently there are plans afoot for an expanded three-volume version of the Great Pendragon Campaign, but that might be some time away.

Published in: on May 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – Black Letter Press Petit Albert

Today I’ll be reviewing the Petit Albert as issued by Black Letter Press and translated by Paul Summers Young. For a caveat on Young, see this post. The two other editions above are the Ouroboros Press edition (purchase link, review), and the Spellbook of Marie Laveau from Hadean (now OOP, review here).

I’m not going to spend too much time on the significance of the Petit Albert – you can check out my writeup at the last link. Also, what follows is not a systematic read of each recipe in each book. Rather, I covered the magical sections of the Black Letter Press edition – I assume you didn’t want the soap recipes – and also dipped into the material from the Hadean and Ouroboros editions, the French edition dated 1752, and some entries from the Trésor de la langue française informatisé from time to time as I went. Much of what I have to say would be superseded by a fluent bilingual reviewer.

The book itself- visible at the upper left above – is quite an attractive book, with its bright blue binding, gold foil pentacle, and cloth bookmark. I’m not sure if I’m fond of the black on dark blue color scheme myself, especially with regard to the spine. Perhaps making more use of brighter cloth colors or gold or silver lettering might be considered for future releases?

Young’s translation covers essentially the same material as in the other two translations. I did notice more problems with the omission of certain passages, and I wanted to quickly address what I think is going on here. It doesn’t happen often, so I don’t see it as a deliberate effort to cut material for space. Rather, it seems that Mr. Young’s translation technique occasionally overlooks a passage and doesn’t catch it later on. I think it would be an easy fix.

I left my last review of the Ouroboros / Hadean editions without any strong feelings one way or another – and I’m in the same place right now. I think the Hadean’s footnotes on the word choices put it slightly ahead, and the Black Letter edition’s occasional omissions slightly behind, but neither are major factors. There’s still an opportunity here for an English translation that takes quality up another notch, and I look forward to it appearing someday.

Published in: on March 30, 2021 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Magic of Rogues

Penn State University Press has recently supplemented its excellent Magic in History series with a Magic in History Sourcebooks series, dedicated to publishing primary texts on magic in relatively cheap editions. (This is somewhat confusing, as texts published in the long-standing main series might also fall under that format.) The first work in the series that provides ritual magic texts is Frank Klaassen and Sharon Hubbs Wright’s The Magic of Rogues. It won’t be released in print until April 15, but the electronic version has been out for at least a month. I wish I’d known about it when finishing up my last article.

This relatively short work provides two early sixteenth-century case studies of magicians who ran afoul of legal troubles. The first deals with the Worcestershire nobleman William Neville, who consulted numerous cunning folk in order to gain influence over powerful people and determine whether he would gain his father’s lands. The second concerns a conspiracy of local clergy and secular individuals to treasure hunt near Mixindale. As can be expected, neither of these went well – although those new to the material might be surprised at how light the penalties were and how little interest the authorities had in pursuing their investigations beyond the immediate situation.

For both such cases, Klaassen and Wright provide both legal and magical documentation. The legal documents include the indictments and the testimony of multiple individuals for each of the cases. Following these are segments from magical texts that cover operations with similar purposes. It would be better to magical texts used by the participants, but it’s rare to find anything like this in Britain, in my experience. Both include translations from the Latin (although the Latin itself is not provided), with modernized spelling and some changes to wording for modern sensibilities. The latter can be questionable sometimes, but in this case, each instance is footnoted, and I completely agree with each one of these editorial insertions.

I’m not the best person to comment on the magical texts, as much of the material for the second part comes from Bodleian e Mus. 173, which I published as Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits. What appears here are not so much entire manuscripts as illustrative examples of particular aspects of magical practice. Your tastes may vary, but what I found of interest are instructions for the creation of talismans of Jupiter, with a list of several usages for different purposes, and a fifteenth-century procedure for calling up the four demonic kings. Another reader might find some answers here. The presentation is excellent and thorough – I can see the solution to at least one unresolved question from my own text – and the editors have even made sure to include the illustrations, which other editors might pass over.

I do have a few small quibbles with the text. For starters, Folger V.b.26 is repeatedly referred to as V.b.28. Also, at one point Oberion is referred to as a “demon.” This is not always the case; I have instances in which Oberion is referred to as a spirit, a fairy, or an angel, but not as a demon, save in the legal articles of accusations against Sir James Richardson presented here. (In fact, the term “demon” is little used in the material I’m examining at all, with the more neutral term “spirit” being preferred.) This is largely a question of interpretation rather than fact, however.

This text admirably succeeds in its task of providing a window for non-specialists into primary texts detailing the lives of early sixteenth-century necromancers and their practice. As for those who want magical texts, this does not include a large number, but the texts chosen are of interest and probably worth it for the price.

Published in: on March 13, 2021 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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.

What do you want to see next? Go to my Twitter poll and let me know!

Published in: on February 20, 2021 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hadean Press Production Schedule, Enodia Releases, Hellfire Ads, Book Theft, Book of Four Wizards, Upcoming Reviews

Precious Apothecary, Cecil Williamson’s Book of Spells, Black Letter edition of the Petit Albert

Now, for the ongoing disappointment of everyone who showed up for Pendragon content – I start talking about books of magic again!

Hadean Press has dropped a neat publication schedule for 2021, including hardcover books on runes, Yoruba religion (EDIT: Al reminds me this one is on Vodou), the Arbatel, and narratives in charms. I’d suggest looking at their pamphlet lines as well if you order from them.

Enodia Press is accepting pre-orders for the first volume of the Key of Necromancy, for those of you who didn’t get the first printing.

Hellfire Books is running ads on Facebook for titles and a “lifetime membership” of some sort. I find the large number of likes and small number of entirely positive comments to be interesting. My present policy is to buy Hellfire products only if I encounter copies physically, which I don’t anticipate doing any time soon.

Clifford Low pointed me to a Patheos article on the theft of occult and pagan books from public libraries. Its prevalence is largely based on anecdotal data, so I think there’s an interesting project there for some enterprising librarian seeking publication. I think it’s unlikely that any of my readers are tempted to engage in such behavior, but acquiring, cataloging, and preparing books for the shelf is an intensive task with expenses well beyond a book’s retail price.

I’m back to the Book of Four Wizards. This week’s project was examining a magical inscription around the edge of a circle and realizing it was taken from a ninth-century prayer of protection in battle. Sort of. I’m getting close to the end… Aside from some points that need to be re-examined. And writing an introduction. And working with S. Aldarnay on the illustrations. So there’s still a good bit to do.

I am actually reading Newcomb’s book on the Black Pullet, and I’ve put the next three possible titles I might want to read afterward in the picture above. (The bookmarks do indicate that I’ve already made forays into that.) Any one you’d particularly like to see?

Published in: on February 13, 2021 at 4:55 pm  Comments (1)