Miscellanea, Hadean Press Releases, Joe Peterson Updates, Gaming Rant

Here’s my upcoming scholarly and entertainment reading.

Erzebet at Hadean has shared a few recent publications with me, on the shorter variety. The most notable of these is Al Cummins’ edition of The Art of Cyprian’s Mirror of Four Kings, a scrying ritual taken from British Library Sloane 3850. It’s a solid, brief edition of a text combining a few different topics with which modern readers are interested, along with potential notes for practitioners.

The other two, Fr. Robert Nixon’s original translations of Latin texts, may also be worth checking out. One is Brontomantia, a selection from the Venerable Bede’s works dealing with divination by thunder. (Hint: it usually means a lot of people are going to die.) The other is The Wizard Popes of the 11th Century, which expands on the stories of Pope Sylvester II being a magician to allege that other popes among his associates did the same. Both of them are short pieces that present work that has not, to my knowledge, been presented anywhere else.

Among the recent additions to Joseph Peterson’s Esoteric Archives are a lengthy update to his online edition of the Armadel, including many new manuscript links, and an unnoted revision of the page discussing Johann Weyer’s “Pseudomonarchia Daemonum.”

The Black Letter Press edition of pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book will be my next review topic.

There’s a new lawsuit from a Gygax family member’s “TSR” against Wizards of the Coast – or there was, until they decided to suspend it because they filed it in the wrong venue or other reasons. I’ve written for RPGs and read a great deal of older material for my recent five-year Rules Cyclopedia campaign, so I have thoughts.

RPGs are a form of media, and even good media often contains ideas, preconceptions, and stereotypes that don’t age particularly well. For my part, I know that I tried to take a sympathetic and understanding approach toward other cultures, when writing for Call of Cthulhu back in the day. Still, if someone wanted to re-publish any of it, I’d want to look it over again, as I’ve learned more about the world – especially, that listening to people portrayed in a text is important.

Wizards has been slowly placing half a century’s publications for older D&D settings on Drivethrurpg and DM’s Guild, much of it inaccessible for decades. I have greatly enjoyed these publications, but having read a great deal of this, from time to time I came across material with outmoded ideas about gender and ethnicity. Based on the rate of publication and slow efforts to correct quality defects, I seriously doubt there’s even one full-time Wizards employee on the project now. Thus, their strategy has been to add a disclaimer that some of the books might contain problematic material.

Thus, OSR people have been uniformly happy that they could get a vast catalogue of nigh-lost material for their favorite games at an affordable price. Kidding – many are now mad about the disclaimer, of course, and are cheering on a lawsuit by a new “TSR” led by a Gygax brother. Does the lawsuit have anything to do with the disclaimer? Of course not – it’s about the new TSR filing claims on trademarks from older D&D products and other games, then claiming that TSR is infringing on them, which is not how anything works. For more information, you can read Akiva Cohen’s analysis, if you like. Maybe they’ll refile?

I really don’t think these individuals have considered the most likely outcome to any semi-successful suit: Wizards taking down all of these products and making them inaccessible once again. Maybe they’ll figure that out, but probably not.

All right – I’m done. Time to write some project emails.

Published in: on December 11, 2021 at 4:22 pm  Comments (1)  

The Yellownomicon, Stellas Daemonum and an Index Rant, Scholarly Releases, Upcoming Reviews, Dan Being Punchy for Some Reason

That’s right – “the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World” is now available in yellow and pink! See how carefully I’ve treated my copy of this historically significant work.

This was first flagged for me by Bobby D., as an inexplicable image of the Simon Necronomicon he found online. I thought it was just a misprint or badly Photoshopped image. But I found this copy in the local Barnes and Noble. It’s not a misprint, because the back cover and spine are a tan color. Someone thought this was a good idea. I don’t know – maybe it is. Maybe the goth kids these days dress in yellow and tan. As if I’d know.

I picked up Stellas Daemonum, David Crowhurst’s new book from Wiser, dealing with the orders of the demons in various grimoires. (Full disclosure: I was sent a copy to blurb, which I decided I philosophically couldn’t do due to my anti-systematization perspectives.) Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was tempered by Weiser’s omission of a bibliography and an index in the book. It has endnotes – but after that, nothing. It’s as if they just stopped this lovely, hardback, bookmarked tome right at the end.

Look. I’m not going to tell you every book needs an index. Some books are short, some books are organizationally set up to not require one, and sometimes a really detailed table of contents can work wonders. I think professional indexes are better, but my books are indexed based on a word list I created myself, and it seems to turn out fine. Yet, in most cases, books are going to need some sort of index, and a guide to various spirits definitely does. David, if you’re reading this, maybe you should talk to Weiser about putting something online for purchasers?

Richard Kieckhefer has re-released his classic Magic in the Middle Ages in a third edition. Should you get it, if you have one of the previous ones? Here’s what he has to say in the introduction:

…the new edition adds an entirely new chapter (Chapter 7) on angelic magic, a new section (in Chapter 1) on the magical efficacy of words and of illusion, a new section (in Chapter 4) on the archaeology of magic, and reference to numerous recent studies and editions, which are reflected in larger or smaller revisions of the text.

If you don’t own it and are reading this blog, you probably should pick it up.

SISMEL has also released Le Moyen Âge et les sciences, an anthology edited by Danielle Jacquart and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani. It includes one article by Charles Burnett on variant texts of On Talismans (the SISMEL edition of which I reviewed here) and Julien Véronèse on the Key of Solomon. Those two chapters may be the only ones of magical interest, and the book is quite expensive, especially for us transatlantic customers.

Owen Davies, who gave a great talk for Viktor Wynd on Sunday, published a chapter “Narratives of the Witch, the Magician, and the Devil in Early Modern Grimoires” in the new Brill collection Fictional Practice: Magic, Narration, and the Power of Imagination, which is way too expensive. I’ll see if I can’t get it through the library in a few months.

I’ve been sent a review copy of Historiola by Carl Nordblum, which will be followed by Paul Summers Young’s Four Books of Occult Philosophy, largely because I don’t think I can excuse myself from it any longer. Some of you may know I used to post Twitter polls on upcoming reviews. The outcome was either a) me reading the absolute longest book on the list, or b) someone apparently spoofing the polls to make all options equal, presumably a diabolical plan to let me read whatever I wanted. And it worked!

My Slavic game group is a DCC group once again, for a variety of reasons. I hope to return to it when I’ve got a bit more energy and creativity, but right now two groups is quite enough.

Published in: on November 25, 2021 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Nordblom’s Historiola: The Power of Narrative Charms

One topic that the current magical revival has overlooked is the use of short verbal charms for healing, protection, or other purposes. This is not for lack of source material; my six edited works of magic contain considerable material along these lines, not to mention the vast corpus stretching back millennia in many different languages. Some of it has to do with the move away in modern occultism from the healing arts, the lack of need for charms for agricultural purposes, and the emphasis in New Age-influenced spiritual practice emphasizing incense, crystals, and herbs over verbal incantations. Thus Carl Nordblom’s book Historiola: The Power of Narrative Charms seeks to introduce these works to a modern audience.

(Full disclosure: This review is based upon a hardback copy sent to me by Hadean. Also, I’ve actually considered writing a popular book on this topic, and I might do so.)

Nordblom’s book is largely geared toward practitioners with a theoretical bent, perhaps those more familiar with spirit summoning and other techniques. He explores the underpinnings for how these charms work through their references to powerful figures, the appeal to mythic occurrences linked via narrative into a present situation, and other approaches. Curiously, there is no sort of listing of charms for various purposes which might appeal more to those of a pragmatic focus. (There is a thorough bibliography and index, to help with finding particular items.)

Let’s get to the charms themselves, and how they are covered. I think it’s fair to say that Historiola is both better than what’s presented before for a wider audience, but also has some gaps in its coverage. The charms cited here span thousands of years and much of Europe and the Middle East in their geography. Nordblom has read a great deal of literature on this topic, and his discussion and bibliography testify to the work he’s done. I appreciated seeing some charms, especially those from foreign languages, that are relatively unfamiliar or that I hadn’t seen before.

Nonetheless, Nordblom is not familiar with as much of either the charms or the scholarly literature as he could have been. For example, while the charms are presented faithfully, their historical transmission is rarely explored. (At least one work absent from Nordblom’s bibliography, Roper’s English Verbal Charms, would have been a key text here.) This omission becomes problematic when Nordblom insists that charms are best taught and implemented in the original language and not in translation. Although engaging with living folk traditions can be valuable and fruitful, the length of time these charms have been in circulations and the numerous translations and permutations they have experienced, this is a problematic requirement,

Nordblom’s key focus is on the charms of an “encounter” typology, in which a supernatural authority figure meets an illness or evil during travel and exerts power to stop it. His charting and analysis of this motif is excellent, although he tends to pass over the personification of the evil force in question. I think the latter symbolic transformation into a force in the social realm, subject to that realm’s rules, is key to how these charms “work,” at least on the psychological level. Also, Nordblom takes “motion” as an important element of charms, whereas some prominent charm types merely describe a location- e.g. three fountains or flowers in a wood.

The narratives in the charms, as Nordblom notes, often feature religious figures in events not recorded in more orthodox accounts. Nordblom sees these as elaborations of the conventional narratives, suggesting that meditation on such expansions may serve a practitioner well. He does not note the charms that run counter to the accepted accounts. Indeed, he includes one such charm on page 77, in which a time-traveling Saint Peter saves the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus from bandits. I would have liked to see what Nordblom could have done with an analysis of this topic.

One other area in which the book could have been expanded was the discussion of the ritual actions and conditions that sometimes accompany these charms. Nordblom does touch on them, but there are a good number more, even in the sources he cites (such as Hohman’s Long Hidden Friend).

Despite all that I’ve just said, this is probably the best book explaining the theories and characteristics of verbal charms available to a popular audience right now, in an affordable format. I look forward to where this author might go next.

Published in: on November 24, 2021 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  

On Gal Sofer’s “‘And You Should Also Adjure in Arabic’: Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Formulas in the Solomonic Corpus”

I’ve often heard concerns from my readers about the rising price of academic publishing – especially with books that cost hundreds of dollars and might only include a couple chapters of interest. I might start covering these a bit more, especially if I run into an article as interesting as Gal Sofer’s article in the book Esoteric Transfers and Constructions from Springer.

The title of this article might cause it to be overlooked. I don’t want to say that it’s inaccurate, because Sofer’s chapter does indeed cover how various religious traditions incorporated and modified incantations from various faiths, especially those traveling from Arabic and Hebrew manuscripts into Greek and Latin translations. Sofer makes two arguments I want to emphasize, one regarding voces magicae and the other on the historical significance of Liber Bileth. (Read more on the latter at Mihai’s blog here.)

The voces magicae are the words of power often found in magical incantations, often differing wildly from the language dealing in the rest of the text. Our modern perspective on these, likely influenced by our views on medieval works and the Chaldean Oracle‘s admonition not to change the “barbarous words of evocation,” is that these are often words from other languages that have been corrupted over time. This is often true – but Sofer suggests it is not always the case:

Whereas the ceremonial acts in such works are somewhat stable, the verbal elements, that is, the adjurations and onomastics, are not. The multilingualism and the unstable nature of the nomina magica in such texts often served as catalysts for a Christian acculturation. (p. 61)

Thus, not only might a scribe translating a document from Hebrew or Arabic might not simply copy over the incantations and magical words, but in fact substitute their own. With this in mind, simply looking at the voces magicae or even the incantations might not be a reliable indicator of the origin of a ritual. The actions taken, ingredients, might give us better grounds for comparison.

What of Liber Bileth? Previously, we knew that this fifteenth-century Latin text was later translated into Hebrew, yielding the text translated at Mihai’s blog. Sofer suggests that this work derives from an original Hebrew work, the Sefer Ha-Qvizah, with fragmentary copies in the Cairo Genizah dating back to the eleventh century. Further, this work appears to have been the source of other incantations found in Dee’s Book of Soyga, the Discoverie of Witchcraft, and the Hygromanteia, the Greek precursor of the Key of Solomon. The tendency has been to favor Greek origins for the book over any Hebrew ties, but this might be changing. (That doesn’t make it any more likely the book was actually written by Solomon, of course.)

(As a side note, the spirit in Sefer Ha-Qvizah is named Bilar, which means that the “Bileth-Lilith” equation inspired by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 849, published as Forbidden Rites, might be more of a coincidence than a historical link.)

I think all of this is definitely worth of more discussion. Sofer only provides a few sample passages, which makes it difficult to estimate just how far these correspondences go and to give them a solid critique. I hope this does occur over the next few years. In the meantime, it gives grimoire aficionados a great deal to think about.

Published in: on November 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Relaxation, Upcoming Reviews, Thabit ibn Qurra’s Book on Talismans, Slavic Monsters

I tried to finish two books at once – following two collaborative book chapters at work – so I’m taking it easy for now.

It has allowed me to catch up on my reading. The next review will be The Green Book of the Élus Coëns. I’ve also dipped into the amulets, magical bowls, and Genizah magical texts in the reprint of Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked’s Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity.

I’ve also been dipping into the Post-Vulgate Story of Merlin and a few of the minor Arthurian epics, slightly similar to what Greg Stafford did when writing Pendragon. I mainly underline examples of interesting behavior and values, while writing snarky commentary in the margins.

SISMEL in Italy has released a scholarly edition of a famous text on astrological image magic. From their website:

This book contains a reconstruction of Thabit ibn Qurra’s On Talismans, based on a recently-discovered Judaeo-Arabic text in the Cairo Genizah and the Latin versions. On Talismans, probably written in Baghdad in the late ninth century, was the most authoritative medieval text on the procedure for making talismans that depended for their efficacy on the natural influences of the stars. The Genizah manuscripts also include the first nine talismans of the On the Images on the Decans of the Signs attributed to Ptolemy, a work which forms a natural complement to Thabit’s text and is therefore included in this edition. Editions of the major excerpts of, and quotations from, these two texts in Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, have been added, and the Latin translation of another (lost) Arabic version of Thabit’s text – the Liber prestigiorum Thebidis – made by Adelard of Bath, completes the volume. Adelard’s version adds elements of ceremonial magic (including prayers to spiritual forces) to the effects of the stars. The texts edited here are essential sources for our knowledge of the theory and practice of astrological talismans in the Middle Ages and early modern period.

I’m looking forward to this, although I should note that they do not mention an English version of the text. You can find a non-scholarly edition by John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock here. (UPDATE: I’ve received it, but I haven’t had time to figure out what they’re doing with the text.)

Shoggoth.net is running some of my Slavic monsters I wrote up for my Slavic game. At this point, they’ve published the bayechnik and the preglavica, with four more to come. Check out some of the other submissions while you’re there.

The Viktor Wynd Museum has been holding online lectures on a variety of topics of interest to Papers readers. I’ve been enjoying the Cornish folklore series and the talks by Ronald Hutton. At the end of his talk on fairies, Hutton recommended Jeremy Harte’s Explore Fairy Tradition, which is proving to be even better than I had hoped. American readers should be aware that the Amazon price is well above what the publisher offers. Heart of Albion does ship to the US with Paypal, but you might want to indicate in your email that you’re a real person.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Published in: on October 24, 2021 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  

A Few Short Travels, Writing Project Update, Reviews, A New Jake Stratton-Kent Book, Bulgarian-Slavic and Arthurian Gaming

I’ve made a few small trips lately. Last month, I made an excursion to Michigan, where I spent some time with my family watching muskrats swim lazily across a pond. I was able to visit the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic for the first time in about two years on my way back.

Today I made a quick excursion to Kingston and Woodstock, where I prowled bookstores and metaphysical shops. It’s good to get out of the house and around people, especially when the fall is still a question mark. I do miss going to the UK, but the situation there would need to change considerably before I do. Maybe next year?

The witch bottle revisions are almost done, and I’m re-reading the whole book to try to smooth out how the prose flows. There are some sections of the Book of Four Wizards that need to be examined more closely, especially on some Latin where the author seems to have been copying without understanding what was written. If all goes according to plan, these will be off to the publishers on schedule – and you’ll see them soon.

In the review queue, I’ve just finished Trollrún, and I’ve begun work on Agostino Taumaturgo’s Medieval Rituals of Catholic Exorcism. I have many, many books in the queue right now, and I hope to have some time to get to them in the fall. Review copies usually jump to near the front.

Hadean has released another book by Jake Stratton-Kent, The Sworn and Secret Grimoire:

A ‘Guide to Grimoiring’ is well overdue, with unqualified persons claiming to fill the gap only to muddy the waters further. Simplifying the processes involved is unhelpful, what is required is to render them comprehensible and ‘user friendly’ in a time where they are regaining their deserved prestige as monuments of a tradition preceding the Christian era while nonetheless rooted in it. These processes are demanding and require both work and study in order to succeed. So too the ‘by rote’ attitude exhibited by some writers on the subject requires a counterblast. Forging and reforging grimoires has always been a part of their real nature; in a metallurgical as well as a literary sense. Ritual composition from scratch is a neglected but necessary skill, requiring a qualified and informed approach, which the current work addresses. So too this handbook departs from the homogenised ‘Solomonic’ form, drawing instead on the great iconoclast and revitaliser of tradition, Paracelsus. While avoiding Christophobia, the implications for a more pagan (or pagan friendly) approach to the grimoires, compatible with the Greek Magical Papyri and other predecessor forms, are greatly increased by this shift of emphasis.

My DCC game has wrapped up, and we’re moving to a biweekly game in a Bulgarian-Slavic setting of my own design, using Moldvay B/X as a chassis and a dash of Mörk Borg (which Phil has asked me to review). The goal is to be more gritty and grounded in folklore of a particular area. I’ve wanted to run it for a while, and the group is responding well to it so far – so well I need to do worldbuilding on the fly. (If you’re a player reading this, this is a lie.)

Pendragon… is continuing. I think some of the players are finding interesting ways to disrupt the world.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

Published in: on July 25, 2021 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Announcement: Witch Bottle Book

A few days after the last review, I got the go-ahead to announce this.

Avalonia will be releasing a revised and expanded version of my short book on witch bottles later this year. I’ve collected more contemporary accounts, and several important scholarly works have been published since then, which will be incorporated into the book.

It should be available in both print and electronic formats, for those who appreciate one or the other. I’ll announce it when it’s ready to go.

Is there anything you’d like to make sure is covered in the new book? Let me know in the comments.

Published in: on June 26, 2021 at 1:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Book Shopping at Long Last, Upcoming Reviews, Open Access Books on Magic, Slavic Folklore, Cultural Appropriation

Lecouteux, Travels to the Otherworld; Reed, Recared’s Unclean Pamphlet; Pennick, Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots

I went out of town this weekend to see my family for the first time since December 2019. Along the way I got to re-visit some of my favorite bookshops, as you can see above. Please feel free to ask me about any of these items.

I finished Precious Apothecary on the plane, but I need to write it up and get a couple things in order before I do. I also received a reviewer’s copy of Acher and Sabogal’s Clavis Goêtica, which will probably be the next item on my list.

If you’re interested in scholarly books on magic, Owen Davies has been posting links to some excellent open access works, including Beyond the Witch Trials, Witchcraft Continued, and The Materiality of Magic.

A small group of friends was hoping to learn something about Slavic folklore, so I invited Katarina Pejovic, author of Balkan Folk Magic: Zmaj, to speak to them. It was wonderful – it takes talent and a considerable depth of knowledge to talk about Serbian dragon lore for an hour and a half, while making it clear that a dozen other topics could be addressed with equal depth and fervor. I recommend her highly to anyone seeking a speaker on this topic.

Some of my FB friends have been circulating links to a Patheos article “Cancelled for Renovations: More Thoughts on Closed Practices” by Thumper Marjorie Forge, dealing with the usage of spiritual practices from other cultures. I think the author is moving in a good direction, yet there are points with which I disagree intensely. I’ll summarize briefly:

  • Cultural appropriation is not itself bad; instead, it is a neutral concept that become problematic when people from historically advantaged backgrounds appropriate practices from people who are historically disadvantaged. In those circumstances, the people, the history, and the practices appropriated may yield different answers for different people.
  • If one is practicing using elements of the cultures of historically disadvantaged groups, consideration of those groups should not be absent from practice or life. Forge offers an example of five individuals working with “Sokovian” culture. I do think that seeking out transactions with indigenous artisans is a good step, but none of these hypothetical practitioners discuss, learn about, or find ways to address the conditions that led to or maintain the Sokovians’ marginalized status, such as a robot army destroying their capital. This could include talking to people from the culture in an open-minded way, seeking out local media, supporting relevant legislation, or any number of other practices.
  • Many of the approaches I see here and elsewhere adopt a “checklist” mentality to cultural appropriation. All someone needs to do is avoid X, Y, and Z, and they will be Good People Not Doing Anything Wrong. I think it is more useful to periodically engage in self-reflection: Has my understanding of this practice changed? Do I know more about those who historically practiced this spirituality? How does that affect my life and my approach? The answers will be different based on the person, the culture, and the practice, of course.

Take care of yourselves, and I’ll talk to you more later.

Published in: on May 26, 2021 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

General Update

I haven’t had much to say lately, having a pile of work to do and a pile of gaming to amuse myself afterward. I’m in the vaccination cycle right now, so I’m hoping to be out and about more soon, especially if enough people can also get the same benefit. I might not be heading overseas this year, so I’ll be missing some of you a little longer.

My next review will be Precious Apothecary, although it might take me a while to get to it. I’m doing some deep diving on magical incantations involving the saints, especially directed at St. George and St. Helen, along with pulling together two books at once.

Among books received is Aaman Lamba’s new work Great French Occult Romances (see above), which he was kind enough to send. It includes the Red Dragon novel that I mentioned in my review of his previous work, plus other fictional texts from the same period.

I’m taking a break from the main text in order to continue to work on the illustrations, and to work on some of the background of Olivia Serres and Robert Cross Smith, a.k.a. Raphael. I’m also trying to wrestle with some ideas about when the “occult,” in the way we conceptualize it as a category including magic, alchemy, and astrology, came about. I’m open to reading suggestions on all of this, of course.

Has anyone considered writing a history of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game? It would be great if someone were accumulating all the institutional wisdom of the people involved in its creation, evolution, and distribution.

Take care, everyone.

Published in: on April 13, 2021 at 12:01 pm  Comments (3)  

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