Three out of Four Ain’t Bad: The Book of Four Wizards Update

Still working on that review – but I have a small project update.

I went to NYC for a few days to engage in some intensive research and book work while apartment-sitting for a friend. I managed to finish up the double-check of the text, and I’ve started modernizing the writing. Last time, this took a month – I think it’ll take longer this time, given that the writing is more challenging and I’m working with more images.

I also got to do some research at the reading room of the NYPL. Special thanks to the kind people at the Pforzheimer Collection, who let in a stranger who arrived unannounced to view an Olivia Serres letter. I’m fairly confident now that she’s the fourth hand in the manuscript – and her contributions, once we set aside the early nineteenth-century poetry, do establish her as yet another individual interested in the practice of magic and alchemy.

In the meantime, I might have found another author. The manuscript features a few different divinatory items using numerology based on adding up values of the name of the querent. In one such place, an abbreviated name appears – and the best match for the numerological values seems to be “Thomas Harrington.” I initially thought this might be the work of the original 17th century author, but closer examination of the handwriting makes it more likely this is the late 18th century annotator.

I wasn’t hopeful about finding too much about Mr. Harrington, given how common his name was – until I ran a search in WorldCat. (This is generally a good practice for backgrounding anyone.) There I found a listing for A catalogue of the very rare and curious library of Dr. Thos. Harrington, decd. : comprising old songs, ballads, history, magic, witchcraft …, to be sold at auction by Thomas King Jr. at Covent Garden on May 20, 1806. Other publications of music from the late 18th century indicate that Harrington might have been local to Bury St. Edmunds.

Thanks to the help of Bobby Derie and Dave Goudsward, I’ve now seen a newspaper advertisement of the sale, which lists that the person is a “well-known collector” of, among other things, “magic, witchcraft, [and] astrology,” and who owned “curious manuscripts” on many topics. It’s not 100%, but I feel pretty good about pursuing this particular lead.

As to the 17th century original author – who knows?

Published in: on November 5, 2019 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Book of Three Wizards: A Brief Prospectus

One of my readers asked me if I could give him a summary of what my next project from Llewellyn will be. I quickly searched Papers in hope of giving him something that would quickly fulfill him, only to realize that I hadn’t actually written too much about the book here anyway. It’s time to correct that.

My latest project is a transcription of the Bodleian Library’s manuscript Douce 116, one of the more unusual ones I’ve encountered. Whereas you can find many of these manuscripts have been previously microfilmed or digitized, Douce 116 somehow made it with very little attention. One likely reason is that Francis Douce, the nineteenth-century librarian and antiquary who collected it, had only this work of magic in his collection, although he did collect other books on witchcraft and the like.

The main body of the book is a magical miscellany of the late seventeenth century, at the time when magic and astrology reached the heights of their popularity just before falling into disfavor in the following century. Likely written by a cunning person in Worcestershire (I’ll get into that in the introduction), it shows the influences of the magical publications of the mid-seventeenth century, including Agrippa, the Arbatel, and a likely reprint of the Discoverie of Witchcraft, while also displaying a keen interest in the lore still circulating in manuscripts.

A century later, the book fell into the hands of another occultist who did quite an amount of writing of his own in the book – paginating it (although he couldn’t keep that straight), annotating the other author’s sources (sometimes incorrectly), and filling the front, back, and blank spaces with all manner of mystical formulae and bits of wisdom.

After that, the book apparently passed into the hands of Robert Cross Smith, the first “Raphael,” who possessed it in 1825. He bound in a few pages of his own, including a reference to the president of the mysterious society of the Mercurii. Finally, the manuscript passes to Francis Douce, who upon his death in 1834 leaves it to the Bodleian.

I’m working on a second correction of the text right now, and James Clark will be handling the illustrations again. This will likely be a few years down the road before you catch a glimpse of it. While you wait for it, you might read a couple of my recent articles (available here and here) for which it served as an excellent source.

Please put your questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Published in: on October 2, 2019 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  Leave a Comment  

Swedish Black Books and NecronomiCon Appearances

This announcement from Revelore Press appeared this morning:

Svartkonstböker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition

by Dr Tom K Johnson
Folk Necromancy in Transmission Volume 4

ISBN: 978-1-947544-22-2; Sept 2019; ~650pp.

Svartkonstböker is a fully revised edition of Dr Johnson’s 2010 PhD Thesis Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, featuring a thorough, path-breaking study of the black arts book tradition in Sweden, as well as English translations of 35 Swedish black art books ranging from the 1690s to the 1940s, including over 1900 spells and a robust index.

The late Dr Johnson always wished that his work would see print publication in its entirety. Other publishers have offered to produce this work in two volumes, prioritizing the spells in the black art books over the scholarly apparatus that contextualizes them. Here Revelore presents the work in full, comprising over 650 pages of material. Minor errors from the PhD manuscript have been rectified, and archival images of the characters, sigils, and illustrations have been restored in high fidelity. This is the definitive source work for the Swedish magical corpus of black art books.

If this fulfills this mandate – and it should – it will be amazing. Both paperback and collector’s editions will be available. The paperback is priced at $50, but 650 pages makes it well worth it.

I will also be returning to NecronomiCon this year, and I’ll be on two panels. One is Delta Green based, Sunday at 9 AM. The other is a panel I’m moderating “On Gaming the Weird,” with Sandy Petersen, Kenneth Hite, Fiona Maeve Geist, Shane Ivey, and Badger McInnes. You can see the full schedule here.

Published in: on August 5, 2019 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

New Year’s 2019 Greetings

Happy new year, everyone!

I’ve been working on a few different projects lately.  Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits is through the page proofs process, so I’m looking forward to seeing that next month.

Caduceus is working on the Bellhouse books. I haven’t heard an ETA on their arrival yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

I’m putting some serious work into transcribing another manuscript, Bodleian Douce 116. It’s a manuscript with at least three different scribes, writing in it in different eras. It’s the source of the short piece on early modern fairy beliefs that was published in Folklore, and I think the whole has a great deal of interesting information.

Some of you might have seen my post about alchemist-astrologer-balloonists George and Margaret Graham on Facebook. I’m working on formatting the book to be published on Amazon. It might be the best option, given its length and subject. We’ll see how it all goes.

Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff name-checked me in a recent episode. I’m flattered to think that I’m Ken Hite’s one phone call on Pennsylvania German folklore, but I’d suggest he contact Patrick Donmoyer, who is fluent in German and Pennsylvania German, lives in the region, runs a museum and library of Pennsylvania German buildings and artifacts, paints barn stars (a.k.a. hex signs), etc.

I’ve been reading some interesting stuff lately. The one immediately before me is the latest issue of The Enquiring Eye, which I recommend for those of you interested in short readable articles about folklore and magic.

I hope your new year brings you happiness and lots of great books.

Published in: on January 14, 2019 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Forthcoming – My Books on Bellhouse, Wax Images, and Witch Bottles

I’ve been waiting to announce this for years.

Caduceus Books is releasing a slipcased edition of short books written or edited by me, never seen before. Those who have listened to my folklore podcast know about my work with William Dawson Bellhouse, the 19th-century Liverpool cunning man and galvanist. Now, you can have a transcription of his book of magic, along with a facsimile of the original (most pages – we didn’t think you needed the Fourth Book  by pseudo-Agrippa again), and a small discussion of what we know about the man himself.

But wait! We’ve also got two short treatises on occult topics inspired by Bellhouse’s grimoire. One is on witch bottles, constituting the first book-length work on the topic. The other deals with wax images and their use in magic. Both are about fifty to sixty pages, with extensive endnotes and a bibliography.

But wait! We’ve also got reproductions of a multi-part exposé written for the Liverpool Mercury dealing with the city’s magical practitioners and occultists.

But wait! All of this appears in a handsome slipcase – which features a secret compartment. Inside this will be inserted (or not, depending on where you live – apparently Customs can get tricky about these things) magical diagrams, crystals similar to those used in Liverpool at the time, and other magical items, including a booklet so secret I don’t even know what’s in it.

Interested? Go to Caduceus Books and check it out. I’d suggest reading through the description, so you know precisely what you’re getting into.  It’s expensive – but after November 18, orders will be closed.

Published in: on November 6, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Comments (7)  

An English Excursion, Part 6, Plus That Little Part in Wales I Didn’t Mention Before Now

Sunday was a special day, as I met up with the wonderful Ben Fernee of Caduceus Books for some exploration of Bristol and points north. On a previous trip to Glastonbury, my intent to reach Bristol had been thwarted due to engine trouble, and I was intent on making it there to view some scenes from the aptly-named book of stories by Raphael, Tales of the Horrible.

It nearly didn’t happen. My phone hadn’t decently charged in the car beforehand, and when Ben picked me up, we realized his GPS was also low on charge. We had nothing we could do – save that I had a backup battery for my phone. That would only last so long, and the phone kept shutting down due to excessive heat – but between that and some old-fashioned map-reading, we managed to get where we needed to go.

Back to Tales of the Horrible. Raphael mentions a tremendous cliff on top of the deep gorge that runs past Bristol, which was formerly the home of a holy hermit – or a giant, depending on what story you read. A few years after he wrote the book, an old mill on the site had an observatory and camera obscura built, and passages to the nigh-inaccessible cave were blasted through the rock. Now the whole place is a pleasant park where you can get ice cream.

View of Bristol Suspension Bridge

In the tale, a desperate nobleman goes to consult a wizard who dwells by himself in a cave opposite the cliff. Bristol is known for its many caves nearby, but the presence of a skylight mentioned in Raphael’s story narrowed my search considerably. The cave was accessible down an overgrown path between luxury apartments and the cliff. We soon found dire signs warning us to turn back, but we pressed on nonetheless, to the Necromancer’s Cave!

Necromancer's Cave

… which was surprisingly cozy. The necromancer was apparently out, so we left.

To follow Raphael’s story, the Necromancer and the desperate noblemen alighted upon a dangerous course, traveling to the churchyard of Abbot’s Leigh church, where they called up the spirit Birto, a dragon, and his hordes of zombies. There were few signs of the aftermath at the church.

Abbots Leigh Church

We had one other stop to make, and to do so, we traveled across the Severn to Wales, my first visit to that ancient land! Well, mainly we were lost and going the wrong direction, but we figured out where to go, and soon we were speeding upriver to the temple of Nodens. That’s right, Mythos fans who read this far, Nodens is an actual Romano-Celtic deity, and his temple is on the estate at Lydney, which is open on occasional days in warmer weather.

Lydney Estate

We walked up the hill and were able to view the temple of Nodens, where the ill slept in hopes of the god’s healing.

Temple of Nodens at Lydney

We attended the small museum below, which had many artifacts from the temple – including the famous Dog of Lydney and a curse tablet! – and then got cream tea in the house’s garden while gazing off at the Severn Valley. A lovely end to the day!

Museum at Lydney - The Dog of Nodens

I mean, if you discount the drive back to Bristol Parkway, realized that a train had been canceled due to the new GWR schedule starting that day, and I said hasty goodbyes to Ben before sprinting for the track.

I enjoyed my trip, and I hope I get to return soon.

Published in: on September 17, 2018 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

My English Excursion, Part 4

(Parts 1, 2, and 3)

The next day was our final day with the car, so we made that our day of visiting various sites in West Penwith. We began with visiting the Merry Maidens stone circle, a pleasant little circle just off the main road, before braving the back roads to the Iron Age village Carn Euny. It’s a site of one of Cornwall’s famous underground tunnels called fogous, and one can’t say a trip to Cornwall is complete without a fogou.

I’d never been to Carn Euny before, and we eventually involved ourselves in a complicated turn-around of the car on a muddy turnout to a field – after which we walked down the road, rounded a bend, and came upon the parking area for Carn Euny. A quick walk through the fields brought us to the fogou:

Carn Euny with Mysterious Individual

IMG_0157

I happened down a nearby trail to Saint Euny’s well, a famous site nearby known for its healing properties, now cordoned off behind a gate:

Gate to St. Euny's Well

We made an attempt for another famous healing well at Madron, but we couldn’t find the road to it. Fortunately, West Penwith is quite small in proportion to its large number of interesting sites, so it took little time to return to Penzance, have lunch, re-orient, and return to find the famous well. This is the sole one in Cornwall in which the practice of leaving clooties in the nearby branches can be proven to have ancient antecedents.

Madron Holy Well

Next, we went to the famous and mysterious holed stone of Mên-an-Tol. While there, I attempted to find a nearby fairy well. I believe I did – or, at least, I became overly familiar with the boggy, bramble-laden area in which it lies. I nearly lost a boot there, and C—– watched me thrash around with a mixture of amusement and concern.

Men an Tol

We had one final stop for the day: St. Ives, at which I desired to climb the hill that leads up to the chapel of St. Nicholas. I had seen it one stormy day during a bus stop at St. Ives, and I had resolved that I would ascend on my next trip. I did not entirely realize that this would mean driving slowly through streets crowded with holiday goers. Nonetheless, once we reached the car park at the hill’s base, it was easy enough to make it to the top and finally attain the chapel.

St Nicholas Chapel, St. Ives

We returned to Penzance, and my parents and I left C—— to visit his favorite local watering hole as we had dinner on Quay Road, looking out at the ocean. On our way back, I noticed how close we were to the neighboring town of Newlyn. Newlyn was known in Cornish folklore for its fishermen’s former belief in the Bucca Dhu, a dangerous spirit who lived at the Tolcarne, a rocky outcrop above the town. It was not so far away – so why not make the attempt? I left my parents behind and walked down the shore to Newlyn, where I soon found myself in the right place.

Tolcarne Terrace, Newlyn

If creepy street names were any indication, I was in the right place.

Creeping Lane, Newlyn

Where might I find the outcrop? Was it further up the hill? Or was it down this curious and well-kept path leading to the cliff?

Path to Tolcarne, Newlyn

Indeed, the latter was the case.

Tolcarne, Newlyn

We shall not speak of what happened at that perilous site, but I was able to escape the wrath of the Bucca Dhu largely unscathed.

That was definitely enough for three days, so it was with some relief that we arose the next morning and took our trains back. My companions headed back to the States, and I… well, it was time to trade the physically grueling part of the trip for the intellectual challenges ahead.

Published in: on July 21, 2018 at 8:16 pm  Comments (1)  

My English Excursion, Part 3

(Part 1 and Part 2)

The next day saw my parents, C—–, and I repair to Boscastle, to visit the Dew of Heaven conference at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. My attendance was an odd coincidence; I’d simply contacted the museum when I knew I was in the area, and they asked me if I wanted to speak. I did, but I didn’t want to cut too far into my family’s vacation. Thus, my parents dropped off C—– and I at the Wellington Hotel and made their way off to parts unknown, telling me they would return for my talk.

They didn’t, which was somewhat disconcerting, given that Boscastle is a cellphone dead zone. The hotel graciously allowed me to phone them – but it turns out they were also out of reception!

Dan Harms Presentation on William Dawson Bellhouse

Nonetheless, my talk on the galvanist and cunning man William Dawson Bellhouse was very well-received. If you want to hear it for yourself, check it out on the Folklore Podcast. I also had good conversations with Jake Stratton-Kent, David Rankine, and Christina Oakley-Harrington. Many thanks to Judith, Peter, and everyone at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic for putting on this conference.

Eventually my parents showed up and told me that they had forgotten that I was speaking. So it goes.

I also had a great chat with Heather Freeman (UNC-Charlotte), who is filming Familiar Shapes, a documentary dealing with early modern beliefs in familiar spirits. I was able to provide her with some data relating to magical manuscripts and how it might relate to the witch trials, along with a picture from the weird 1665 edition of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft depicting a demon-haunted volcano.

I’d have liked to stay more, but I wanted to leave before it got dark. I made a quick run through the museum itself, for the requisite Black Philip selfie, after which we all piled into the car and headed back to Penzance.

Dan Harms, Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Black Philip

Next time – megaliths, fairies, and saints!

Published in: on July 14, 2018 at 8:01 am  Comments (2)  

Review – Speculum Terrae: A Magical Earth-Mirror from the 17th Century

I’m sure most readers are familiar with the use of mirrors in magical operations to speak with spirits – but how common was such practice? We may never know the answer, but Frater Acher has given us a special opportunity to examine one of these items – albeit second-hand – through a new publication from Hadean Press, who were nice enough to send me a review copy.

The book is tiny in size but rich in content. While researching Cyprian, Frater Acher found an Erdspiegel (“Earth-Mirror”) in the archives of Michelstadt, Germany. These mirrors, used for treasure-hunting, consisted of a pane of glass, one or more sheets of paper with magical seals, a thin layer of dirt, and a container for the whole. Not only had the mirror survived for three hundred years, it had been the subject of an article in the Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde by Professor Richard Wünsch in 1904.

After the introduction, Frater Acher provides us with a translation of the good professor’s article, which not only discusses the particular mirror, but also the lore surrounding these devices dating back to Babylonian times. We then move to an examination of the object that has come down to present times, along with the four magical seals that populate it. Acher attempts to place the diagrams and words on these in the context of other magical works, a difficult task given the unique nature of some of the elements. He does manage to trace one of the designs back to a seventeenth-century Rosicrucian treatise, thus providing an example of how that mystical philosophy might have impacted magical praxis.

Acher ends the book with a brief treatise on the significance of earth in folklore, especially of the Germanic variety. A comprehensive bibliography follows. The book has no index, but it is short enough that this is no real detriment.

One question remains unanswered: the paper seal provided in the Wünsch article does not match up with the ones found in the surviving mirror in the archives. Acher hypothesizes that it might have been lost in the interim – yet the professor does not note the presence of the other four paper discs. Further, Wünsch’s article states the box that contains the paper and glass is leather, but the one in the archives is paper. Are we dealing with two separate objects?

This is a small but excellent work that will appeal to those who are interested in magic mirrors and magical treasure-hunting, or who seek a chthonic model of divination for their personal practice.

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 11:29 pm  Leave a Comment