Treadwell’s, Magic Journal for Free, Manuscript Update, Magical Notes and Queries, The Internet Archive, Nonsense Words, and the Modena Inquisition

I’m working with Treadwell’s again to put on a series of lectures on various topics. One – a talk on fairy magic – is up in their lecture series, and I’m thinking about some others.

The journal Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft has put its contents out for free online until the end of the month – so, very soon. If you miss that, or you like what you see, membership in the Societas Magica is pretty cheap.

I’m finding my way along through a lengthy Latin section of love spells in The Book of Four Wizards. A good number of them come from the Picatrix, yet there are some others – one with valerian, one with rosemary flowers, and a final one with the fleshy part of a foal’s head – that I have yet to source.

I’m wondering if a good resource for researchers in the history of magic wouldn’t be a magical version of the journal Notes and Queries, suitable for brief inquiries into problems that might emerge during research. If anyone has any great ideas for how to accomplish that, please let me know.

The latest big news in intellectual property was that the Internet Archive shut down unlimited access to its National Emergency Library due to a publisher lawsuit. There are concerns now that this means the Internet Archive itself will cease to exist, which is a major problem due to the extensiveness and usefulness of its public domain scanning program. People are up in arms at the publishers, and at author Chuck Wendig in particular, for suing and speaking out.

To explain my position, let me use an analogy:

You have evidence that the local casino is crooked and exploitative. You have extensive talks with your family about it. Then one day, a family member walks into the casino, puts the family’s retirement and college savings on red, and loses it all. When everyone finds out about what happened, they get mad at the casino.

The Internet Archive’s collection really is a wonderful resource, but getting mad at publishers is always easy – and getting mad at particular authors is too much like punching down for my tastes. If we want the world that the Internet Archive promised, you need to starting building it with systematic change of the copyright system.

Rant off.

A couple of other works I’ve dipped into deserve a brief mention here. Ciaran Arthur’s ‘Charms’, Liturgies, and Secret Rites in Early Medieval England proposes that it’s difficult to separate charms from liturgical material in monastic texts of the time. Further, he proposes that a great deal of what we think of as voces magicae, or nonsense words of power in incantations, may be multilinguistic monastic wordplay, at least in the particular setting he’s studying. It’s certainly a hypothesis that should be examined in connection with texts from other eras – I’m not sure how useful it is for early modern magic, when English monasticism came to an end and we end up with texts that are explicitly magical, but it’s worth looking into.

I also enjoyed part of Matteo Duni’s Under the Devil’s Spell, a work on the Inquisition’s exploration of magical practices in Modena during the Renaissance. That’s not to dismiss the rest – I just went straight for his translations of the depositions, for some interesting material on magical practices from the period. Both books are worth looking into at your local library, whenever those open in your area again.

Be safe and well, everyone.

Published in: on June 26, 2020 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Review – Wendigo Lore: Monsters, Myths, and Madness

I’m jumping back to my horror roots quickly to return to one of my favorite topics: the wendigo, the anthropophagous monster of Cree and Ojibwa myth. Back as an undergraduate, I did considerable reading on this topic, and I even wrote an article on windigo psychosis for The Unspeakable Oath many, many years ago. My college-age self would have loved my review copy of Chad Lewis and Kevin Lee Nelson’s Wendigo Lore: Monsters, Myths, and Madness, and I can enjoy it as well, with a few reservations.

Wendigo Lore Book Cover

The windigo phenomena is a complex one that has seen much transformation over time, beginning with the monsters’ appearances in Native American legend and history and leading to the present-day media landscape with its inexplicably horned monstrosities. What Lewis and Nelson have set themselves out to do is to be comprehensive about the topic, bringing together First Nations legends, pioneer diaries, newspaper accounts, anthropological analyses, and today’s folk traditions.

I’m not a windigo expert, but I did so some poking around in the literature about the legend a while ago, and I did come into this book with a list of sources that I considered crucial for inclusion. To their credit, Lewis and Nelson managed to find all of them. The only sources I think they missed were Brian Lumley’s Ithaqua novels, but that doesn’t affect their argument much.

Wendigo Lore begins with an introduction to the geography of windigo myths and an exploration of the windigo myth. It then dips into particular places and events, dealing with trials of windigo killers and locales where windigo folklore has been particularly strong. The authors devote a chapter to windigo psychosis, curing the windigo, and destroying windigo, before moving on to the fictional depictions of the creature. The book conlcudes with a discussion of other ferocious beasts of legend that bear some similarity to the windigo. All of this is most satisfying for those interested in exploring the topic, and serves as a comprehensive guide to the topic.

Sadly, a comprehensive guide needs a structure that makes it usable, and this book doesn’t quite come up to that standard. The lack of an index makes tracking down particular people and places difficult. A lesser concern is the lack of endnotes, although a list of references pertaining to each chapter is a nice concession. None of these are necessary for an entertaining read, but those who want to be able to use the book in a more intensive way will find this problematic.

There’s only one other major omission from the book, which requires me to discuss the following quote from the introduction:

The only remaining stumbling block was the poignant question of whether two Caucasian men from the Midwest had the right to tackle such a profound First Nation legend. Would this be just another failed attempt at cultural appropriation?… Yes, unquestioningly, the wendigo is, and always will be, a First Nation legend, much like vampires are forever tied to Transylvania, werewolves to Europe, leprechauns to Ireland and so on and so on. Yet all these monsters are not simply bound by a specific culture, geographical borders, period of time, religion, gender, or belief system. They exist in the deepest recesses of the human brain; they transcend man-made labels and harken back to something darker and more sinister that dwells deep within the human mind.

I think it’s a good question to ask – but it’s not the only one that should have been asked, and the universalist answer gets in the way of that questioning. All sorts of people tell narratives with vastly different content for a variety of motivations in many different contexts. As anyone who has watched a lot of bad movies knows, appeal to the collective unconscious and shared human experience only gets you so far. Whether a story becomes compelling or popular can be due to storytelling ability, language, marketing, or larger political, economic, or cultural trends.

When it comes to a culture’s stories about monsters or supernatural beings, it’s common for outsiders to adopt those stories for their own ends, which often run counter to the intentions or interest of people in that culture. Yet there’s a difference between the appropriation of a story to make a group look backward and superstitious (e.g. those of vampires and leprechauns), and the same to make a group look like backward, superstitious, murderous cannibals. Although the windigo story has taken on a wide variety of meanings as it has been retold, one of the major reasons that European Americans told it was as a tool in service of a broader agenda that led to illness, incarceration, poverty, and death for many people. This usage is likely a major reason that the windigo became as popular as it is today.

Just to be clear, this is not the entire story about the windigo, and I do not think people should stop enjoying windigo media because of its history – although I respect anyone’s choice to disengage with it. That history is a key part of the story that the book barely addresses, however – maybe a quick mention in connection with one of the cases. The rest of the book shows that the authors would have been up to the task – but they didn’t really ask the question, and I feel it is a drawback to what is otherwise a good and enjoyable work.

What can I recommend? If the last few paragraphs resonate with you as a reader, I’d suggest reading Shawn Smallman’s Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth and History first, as that’s a scholarly work that deals in more depth with the uses of windigo stories. I would still recommend Wendigo Lore, however, as a handy, easy-to-read reference on these fascinating mythologocial creatures.

Published in: on June 20, 2020 at 10:01 am  Comments (3)  

Review – Book of Saint Cyprian (Bibliotheca Sufurina I)

The recent upsurge of Anglophone interest in the magical traditions surrounding St. Cyprian of Antioch has led to many fascinating translations of material from other languages (some of which I’ve reviewed here, here, and here). One that I missed reviewing on its initial release was Humberto Maggi’s edition of the Spanish Book of Saint Cyprian, attributed to Jonas Sufurino, from Nephilim Press. This was intended to be a trilogy, and it’s uncertain to me where the plans for the other two volumes are.

The book itself is quite attractive, bound in black with red highlights, including a small devil and a cloth bookmark. After a brief introduction that perhaps favors earlier Cyprianic material more than might be immediately relevant, we arrive at the text itself,  a translation of the 1920 edition from Barcelona’s Casa Editorial Maucci. (As typical, I’m not going to evaluate the translation here, due to a lack of time and expertise.)

As for the contents – I’ve been watching some episodes of Metalocalypse, and it’s that over-the-top heavy metal attitude toward the grimoires that best describes this book. Forget finding a grimoire in a monastery library or tomb – the monk Jonas Sufurino gets the book by calling on Satan, who delivers a self-translating version of Cyprian’s book dipped in the Lake of Red Dragons so it couldn’t be destroyed by any means. Speaking of the Red Dragon or Key of Solomon – while other works might content with these being somewhat metaphorical, this book of Cyprian states that both should be literal talismans, with the Red Dragon being the prized possession of Moses himself. This is the first book in which I’ve seen a robe with planetary symbols on it, like a stage magician, required as a key item of equipment.

Yet the compiler does display some degree of self-awareness in all of this. Chapters which are clearly later than the year 1001 are explained away as marginal comments which have nonetheless been included in the text. There are also occasional bits of levity, such as the flight spell that only works if the magician keeps their eyes closed and returns to the same spot.

Overall, the work is something of a late mashup of a number of different texts – the Grand Grimoire, the Key of Solomon, the Arbatel, the Old Man of the Pyramids, and other works. In some cases, the material is truncated – for example, only one talisman from the Key is given for each planet. Likewise, the Old Man of the Pyramids section jumps over most of the Napoleonic-inspired narrative, to our author-magician just visiting the Old Man because he hears he knows magic, and the Old Man dying very quickly to give away all his knowledge. On the other hand, the Grand Grimoire is expanded to provide a more comprehensive pact-like arrangement with Lucifer than the more treasure-hunting emphasis of the normal rite. The book concludes with a number of the usual rites for acquiring the magician’s desire by being cruel to animals.

Most of the presentation is relatively bare bones; it does not include an original Spanish text, extensive notes, a bibliography, or an index.

Thus, who is this book for? I’d say this is probably of interest to those interested in the Anglophone Cyprianic revival, folk magic enthusiasts and practitioners, and those who are interested in the transformations of ritual magic for new audiences. It’s not a great compilation of the magical texts listed above, due to their truncated nature in the work, but it does possess a fascinating charm all of its own.


Published in: on May 15, 2020 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: The Key of King Solomon, Clavicula Salomonis, for George Graham

We might as well face it – my reviews queue is seriously backed up. In fact, it’s so backed up that the book I’m reviewing today went out of print before I could talk about it.  I’m just going to start working my way down the stack to see where that takes me.

Today, it brings me to this edition of the Key of Solomon, which is a late-period manuscript created by Frederick Hockley for the infamous balloonist George Graham, the subject of my latest book, and the role I played in its production for Aeon Sophia that they might not even know about.

The Key of King Solomon with Transcript

I’ve been keeping an eye out for interesting manuscripts, and several years ago I stopped by the Cleveland Public Library to see this odd Clavis that was listed in WorldCat. It was an interesting document, and I started talking with Ben Fernee about publishing an edition with Caduceus. Ben paid for the digitization of the book and I started working on it, for whenever Bellhouse was done. This took long enough that the library took the images and made them available online  under a public domain license. Then Aeon Sophia took the images – which were freely available online – and published them as a book, which pretty much invalidated our own efforts. That’s why you have this curious little short book on George and Margaret Graham.

I have to admit I was quite miffed at the time – and please bear that in mind when you read this – and I won’t speak for how Ben felt about paying out of his funds to finance what essentially became another publisher’s project. Yet there was no way to for Aeon Sophia to know about any of this, as far as I can tell, and publishing a book in which others are interested is by no means an unforgivable sin.

Oh, but there are indeed unforgivable sins. One of the chief ones is sending any book thicker than a pamphlet across the Atlantic in an unpadded cardboard envelope. I’ve been keeping this particular packaging for months, just so I could put up a picture here:

Dan's Aeon Sophia Packaging

To be clear, the books did arrive fine, and I think most people on the used and rare market are sensitive enough to customers not to even attempt this. I would keep it in mind for future Aeon Sophia orders, though.

As for the books themselves, they consist of a large black hardback facsimile of the book, along with a smaller paperback volume that holds a transcript of the book. The binding looks all right to my untried eye, though I should notice it has no lettering on the spine, which is not encouraging and makes it more difficult to find on one’s shelf.

Graham’s Key is quite the intriguing book. The book is quite different from the Sibley Clavis with which Hockley is usually associated (I’ve reviewed the publication of various editions by Caduceus, Golden Hoard, and Ibis). Instead it representing an Italian and French line of tradition usually attributed to one “Armadel,” not to be confused with the magical book of the same name. Yet this book deviates even more even from this template.

First, we have the spirit list, which, as Joe Peterson observes, is closest to that in the Venetian Secrets of Solomon.  The book also features a wide collection of unusual talismans for various purposes, using the parchment and blood of all manner of creatures – including elephants, camels, tigers, and lions. It wraps up with a curious rite to summon up Lucifer near a body of water.

Yet the thrust of the book – and the topic of many insertions into Lansdowne 1202, to which I compared it – is the proper training and consecration of a magician’s disciples. The procedures ranging from admonitions against improper behavior, such as consorting with women (I do wonder how Margaret Graham felt about that), to consecrating talismans meant to protect the disciples during rites. We even see a talisman meant to pass on a magician’s power to a chosen student at the time of his death, provided they have some ape blood on hand to write it.

Was George attempting to start his own magical order? If so, how far did he get? Perhaps future researchers will find the answers.

The transcript in the accompanying booklet is… seriously lacking. On the first page alone, I found four errors that were easily correctable, and the others I’ve glanced at haven’t been more encouraging. Our transcriber appears to have copied what they saw on the first reading, but I see no signs that they read the transcript for context to catch any errors. Just because a document passes spellcheck doesn’t mean it makes sense. On the upside, the handwriting is not too bad, so if you’re familiar with cursive it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the readings out of the facsimile.

As I said above, the book is currently unavailable in print form, but you can find the Cleveland Public Library’s images here. It’s an intriguing late-period Key with unique aspects worth checking out.

Published in: on March 9, 2020 at 9:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Review: The Black Pullet (Black Letter Press Edition)

During Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, a French soldier sent to survey the pyramids fell victim to an ambush. An old man emerged from a secret door to rescue him, bringing him inside and initiating him into the secrets of occult philosophy. By making colorful talismans and magical rings, all manner of powers could be obtained – and a black chicken could find one buried treasure galore. The old man died after admonishing the soldier that only the most virtuous might obtain this art. The soldier returned to France, and apparently decided to publish the exalted art in cheap chapbooks for a popular audience.

The Red Dragon and Black Pullet from Black Letter PressSo goes La Poule Noir, or The Black Pullet, an early nineteenth-century book capitalizing on the European craze with Egyptian culture to legitimize its magic. We’ve seen various English translations of the book, with this one from Italy’s Black Letter Press being one of the most handsome.

I should state that this press also produced an edition of The Red Dragon, and I’d send you to that review for some important caveats regarding this work and its editor.

The book is a pleasant small work with cloth binding and bookmark. I usually don’t discuss the binding, as I feel that often distracts from the content. In this particular case, though, the design of black text on a dark purple background leads to a book that is more dull in appearance and, along with its size, could easy get lost on a bookshelf. Given the expertise displayed here, I think Black Letter won’t make this mistake again, though.

As for the text itself, it begins with an introduction by the editor Paul Summers Young, which is a nice mix of the scholarly and the entertaining – but I’ll get back to this in a moment.  The translation of the book follows, generally with each talisman and ring pair receiving its own illustration. Young also supplements this with additional material taken from the Black Pullet‘s sister text, Le Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides, or The Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids, that expands and provides helpful instructions for using the talismans within, along with a reading/advertising list at the end of that text, followed by an extract from Le Comte de Gabalis. (Although advertised as such on the website, it does not include Le Chouette Noir, or The Black Screech-Owl.)

Overall, this edition is very much geared toward collectors who want a nicely-bound edition of the classic grimoire in an English translation (which I should add I do not feel qualified to judge). You won’t find any notes, or the French text, or a bibliography.  Young states that he assembled the book out of three different texts and gives general indications of what sort of work he’s done in the introduction, including that some sections have been truncated. On the other hand, he gives no indication of what editions were used to assemble it, which I think should be an expectation for any published grimoire going forward.

Don’t get me wrong on this last point – there is certainly a market for editions of books that are good quality reprints of classic books that are available in many cheaper editions. Yet I think that this book could reach beyond that to appeal to those who want better-quality content, and doing so would take little effort beyond what has already been expended here.


Published in: on January 28, 2020 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Oxford, A Cunning Man’s Book, Appropriated Art, Review Backlog, Magic Circle Thesis, and Other Topics of Interest

I made a quick trip to London and Oxford for the BSECS conference, and I had an enlightening and fun time. You know you’re in Oxford when you’re walking around town in the evening and see window after window open to reveal entire walls those floor-to-ceiling bookshelves – both in libraries and private residences. 

I saw some interesting manuscripts while on the road. One of them was Wellcome 3770, a work by John Parkins, the cunning man said to be Francis Barrett’s pupil. Some of the material within seems to come from Barrett’s scrying procedure published in The Flying Sorcerer, long after his death, so this seems likely. Most of the manuscript is in a personal shorthand, to which Parkins provides the key, and at least some of it is magical, as Parkins apparently didn’t think to come up with shorthand for “Tetragrammaton,” for some reason. It might be an interesting project for someone.

I picked up Shani Oates’ The Real World Art of Cunning Craft from Hell Fire Club Books. It seems to include, both on the cover and as chapter breaks, art from Mihai Vartejaru’s blog post on the Seals of Alcabitius. I can say this with some degree of confidence, as one of the labels for the seals exactly replicates the typos on the same label on Mihai’s blog. Mihai was unaware of this, and I haven’t heard anything from Hell Fire.

Al Cummins called to my attention M. J. de Bejier’s thesis on the elements of magical circles. It does not include the original illustrations, likely due to rights issues. It only covers five manuscripts, so I think of it less as a definitive study and more of a set of hypotheses that should be applied to other works containing magic circles.

Speaking of items I look forward to reading, I’ve accumulated quite the backlog of books to review. I’ll slowly work my way forward, although my present book and associated research takes precedence.

Published in: on January 18, 2020 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Opuscula Cypriani: Variations on the Book of St. Cyprian and Related Literature

Saint Cyprian has become a fascinating figure for magicians from many different opuscula-cypriani-pb-mockupbackgrounds, and a spiritual patron for many of today’s practitioners. Given previous authors’ focus on Solomon as the wizard par excellence, and the linguistic barriers to correlating material on Cyprian from various traditions, our knowledge of the folklore and ritual practice surrounding him has been severely limited. Recent publications have done much to break down these barriers, with Hadean Press’ latest release, Opuscula Cypriani, or “Minor Works of Cyprian” being another welcome addition. The book will soon be available both in hardback and paperback; this review is based on a PDF of the hardback.

In the Opuscula, José Leitão return again to the Portuguese Cyprianic corpus that informed his previous releases, The Book of Saint Cyprian and The Immaterial Book of Cyprian. That one can fill up nearly a thousand pages with barely any overlap with other published material attributed to Cyprian certainly attests to the depth of the tradition. At the same time, however, it illustrates how trying to define any particular trait of “Cyprianic magic” is as perilous and likely as fruitless as trying to label a type of magic as “Solomonic.”

This will be more general impressions rather than an in-depth examination of the work, as 900+ pages is more than I care to read right now. Yet I’d like to talk about the general plan and the highlights.

The works begins with the earliest Cyprianic material Leitão can find from the region: extracts from the processes of the Portuguese Inquisition in which people were found to be using spells attributed to Cyprian. This is followed by one of the most significant works in the book, Universidade de Coimbra MS. 2559, a lengthy eighteenth-century collection of prayers attributed to Cyprian and employed to bring success at treasure hunting. Many of the items in this section include facsimiles of the original documents, along with both Portuguese and English texts for their contents.

In the middle of the book, Leitão gives us a lengthy description of the magic of Cyprian’s history in Portugal (he largely stays clear of the Spanish, Brazilian, and other traditions). He notes that the material from the manuscript editions is largely different from what appears in the later printed literature, and that the Lisbon tradition of the Book of Cyprian has mostly superseded the others presented here, likely due to the effects of successive regimes appropriating or denigrating the folk culture from which it sprang. On the way, we get a quick introduction to Portuguese political history and modern spirituality that I found very welcome.

Many different books attributed to Cyprian, or that seem to be adjacent to it, were published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much of the rest of the book is taken up with translations of such works, ranging in topic from lists of treasures to procedures for divination – physiognomy, cartomancy, and the like. This is the part with which I spent the least time – maybe ritual magic snobbery is showing through on my part – but I think those who wish to know more about folk magic will delight in it.

So, who else would enjoy this work? This is a tough question for me. I think its title as “Minor Works of Cyprian” is a good indicator of whether a potential buyer would like it, though those interested in folk magic of Iberia should also seek it out. Also, those who do not have Leitão’s Book of Cyprian should acquire that first before reading this one. At any rate, I hope to see more such volumes on Cyprian, possibly encompassing works from other countries that might give us more insight into the length and depth of this tradition.

Published in: on January 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  

Palgrave Sale on Books about Magic

I’m almost done with my review of Johnson’s Svartkonstbocker, but I have an announcement for anyone who likes academic books of magic courtesy of Chas Clifton.

Until December 3, Palgrave has put all of its books on sale. Most of their titles should be on sale for $9.99 with free shipping – both physical copies and ebooks. As many of them will run you around $100 otherwise, this is a great deal. I believe the price in euros is similar for European readers. You can click on the link on the main site page for the code.

So, blog readers…

Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period, featuring my article on fairy magic? Was $119.99, now $9.99.

Bellingradt and Otto’s Magical Manuscripts in Early Modern Europe (my review)? Was $54.99, now $9.99.

Dillinger’s Magical Treasure Hunting in Europe and North America (my review)? Was $119.99, now $9.99.

Ohrvik’s Medicine, Magic and Art in Early Modern Norway, dealing with the “black art books” of that country (my review)? Was $99.99, now $9.99.

Chess and Newsom’s Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man (my review)? Drops from $69.99 to $9.99.

How about Davies and Matteoni’s Executing Magic in the Modern Era? That’s a trick question, because it’s open access, but you can get a print copy for $9.99 anyway.

I would also recommend Young’s A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity, Ostling’s Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits, and Hutton’s Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery, and Witchcraft in Christian Britain, The whole Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic series is probably worth a look, although at least one title is bugged so it’s not priced properly. 

I hope many of my readers are in a position to take advantage of this.



Published in: on November 22, 2019 at 11:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Review: The Red Dragon / Dragon Rouge

The winner of my recent Twitter poll for what review I should conduct next was the Black Letter Press edition of the Dragon Rouge, or Red Dragon, the successful outcome of the publisher’s recent IndieGogo campaign. According to the publisher’s website, the volume is sold out, although they’re taking pre-orders for an English translation of The Black Pullet, so this may simply be of interest for second-hand buyers.

If you want some background on this book, along with a comparison of other English editions, including the Grand Grimoire from Trident and the Red Dragon from Teitan, I’d suggest looking here.

Before I begin a review, I like to divulge any conflict of interest that I might have when it comes to a book. This is particularly difficult here, as the editor and translator, Paul Summers Young, was the former moderator of a Facebook group that I left due to what I viewed as his inappropriate language to other members, with the same being directed at me after I left. I personally don’t feel that it will affect the review, but you should aware of it as a possible influence.

Further, as I’ve admitted in the past, my French is nowhere near as good as it could be, but having an original text on hand is important when reviewing such a work. This is complicated due to the existence of several Dragon Rouge texts of various sorts in French. In the end, I looked quickly over the French Dragon Rouge text from Joe Peterson’s CD-ROM, which I recommend to anyone who hasn’t purchased it yet, and the Trident and Teitan Press editions.

(I also turned up this 1846 manuscript digitized from Porrentruy’s Bibliothèque Cantonale Jurassienne, N.C.1. It’s released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license, so have fun.)

First, let’s take a quick look at the cover:

Red Dragon

The brief introduction covers the history of the work and plays up the book’s status as a “work of outsider art”. If you want to learn what version of the book this is based upon:

This English translation aims to capture the tone and substance of the 2019 Black Letter Press Italian edition with close reference to the 1823-ish French edition, which is commonly spoken of as the earliest extant under the name ‘Red Dragon…’

I’m not sure how exactly to read this, but it sounds as if the primary source was the Italian translation rather than the French original, with the latter being checked as Young went. We’ll get back to this later.

The centerpieces of the Red Dragon, as with other editions, are two sets of procedures intended to bring the magician into a pact with a spirit – with the preferred one in both cases being Lucifuge Rofocale, one of the chief servants of Lucifer. The first one is more involved, including the creation of a magnetized “blasting rod” and a kid-skin circle, while the second does not require these accoutrements but provides fewer protections for the would-be magician.

The IndieGogo campaign page notes that much research was done to ensure that the Italian edition from which this was taken was “new and more complete,” Comparing this one to Peterson and the Teitan text, however, shows that the Black Letter edition is missing some of the short operations – such as the creation of the Hand of Glory in the French version, or the meeting with the three spirits at evening in the Italian. The work might have come from a text to which I don’t have access, or the editor may have taken elements from both texts and combined them. I’d be interested to know the answer.

We might be able to answer these questions if the book provided either the French or Italian texts, but neither are present. The text also lacks most of the rest of the other apparatuses some seek in these texts, such as bibliographies, notes, and translations for the Latin passages. I don’t think this will bother most readers, however.

As all three English translations are currently unavailable, that places them at about the same level of accessibility for potential buyers. Personally, I think that the Black Letter edition has the most impressive presentation, but I’d prefer the Teitan Press edition for its content, despite my concerns that the editor might actually be Simon. I think there’s certainly room for a publisher to come out with a beautiful critical edition of this text.

Published in: on September 26, 2019 at 2:18 pm  Comments (2)  

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  Comments (1)