Black Lives Matter, Gaming, Various Book Releases

Generally, I don’t post about politics on Papers, as I assume most of you are here for other purposes. Yet even in this time of uncertainty, we are seeing a growing movement to reconsider histories and interpretations thereof, especially regarding the role of and mostly negative impact on people of color. Justice for all people is something we should all strive for, yet many of us have become adept at finding reasons not to do so.

Nonetheless, we live in a world that is indeed the product of long-term systemic inequities that impact every aspect of our life. For example, it was the vast sugar plantations of Jamaica that financed Sir Hans Sloane’s immense collecting which led to the creation of the British Museum and Library, which have become key resources for the study of the history of magic and the creation of modern ceremonial magic, with later effects on the religious and cultural movements that have arisen from this. Further, as I’ve reviewed my thought on the Simon Necronomicon recently, I’ve realized that I didn’t emphasize that one of the best-selling occult books of all time repeatedly treats the “Aryan race” as if it’s a legitimate concept.

I know some readers engage with magic, folklore, spirituality, science fiction and horror fandom, or roleplaying games as escapes from the everyday world, and that they don’t want to turn what they love into a culture wars battlefield. But it is already. In each one of these communities, I’ve encountered people with genuinely toxic beliefs – racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Nazism – who are intent on not just participating as fans, but expressing their ideology and perpetrating their symbolism within them. And many of these people are writers, artists, editors, and publishers, and thus people who have considerable ability to influence the field and disseminate their message. This drives away people who might be of historically disadvantaged groups that may also want to become fans and creators, thereby driving down the richness and creativity of these communities for reasons that have nothing to do with the passions leading most members to participate.

Some people have become increasingly concerned about “cancel culture,” and we should acknowledge that people can be mistaken in good faith and have the capacity to learn and change. Yet, at appropriate times, we should make it clear about where we ourselves stand on these issues, not for the sake of congratulating ourselves or seeking the approval of others, but to let people know that people of principle are present, are mindful of the community’s health, and will speak out if they see behavior that makes others unwelcome.

We have a couple of catchphrases that people use to dismiss such claims in a superficial manner, and I’ll probably get a couple in the comments. Yet if one stands for principles and equality, and it doesn’t affect what they say or do when it can help others – what good is it?

Now that you’ve sat through that – how about some book recommendations?

My strategy of waiting so long to review books that they go out of print has succeeded, at least once! By which I mean, Enodia Press has released Praxis Magica Faustiana (review here) as a paperback on Amazon.

One of the neat extras included in the Caduceus Bellhouse edition was a series of columns from the Liverpool Mercury from 1857 that dealt with detailed accounts of the spiritualists, crystal-gazers, and cunning folk of that time and place. S. R. Young has put these out as a short book, forming a rich collection of nineteenth-century magical practices and the public attitudes toward them.

Hadean has also released Issue 4 of the Conjure Codex, featuring articles on Michael Scot, the Books of Cyprian, and art projects inspired by the Picatrix decans, among others.

I’ve got two other posts in the works – probably some thoughts on The Gnome Manuscript from Troy Books, and a new edition of the Grand Grimoire. Both of them need some work before completion.

Published in: on July 11, 2020 at 10:53 am  Comments (2)  

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)  

Graham Ballooning e-Book, Cyprian in the Movies, Troy Books at Llewellyn, Distaff Gospels, Review Backlog, and Other Matters

Some of you requested an e-book copy of my book on the Grahams, ballooning, magic, alchemy, and other topics. It should be live above, if you’re interested. This is an experiment, so if you have any concerns about format or how the link works, please let me know.

Those of you Cyprian aficionados might want to check out the horror film El Bosque Negro, or Black Forest. The travails of an impoverished young woman as she attempts to use a Book of Cyprian to escape her situation is handled with all the sensitivity that movies usually bring to folk magic traditions. I did enjoy it as campy fun, so you might view it in that light.

The independent UK publisher Troy Books is always putting out books of interest to those interested in local myth and folklore, especially for Cornwall, even if they don’t have enough footnotes for my tastes. They’ve just made a deal with Llewellyn to distribute their works in the States. I’d particularly recommend Mark Norman’s Black Dog Folklore and Gemma Gary’s Silent as the Trees, but you should check out their line if you’re interested in British folklore and magic.

I keep meaning to mention The Distaff Gospels, a fifteenth-century French satire on the beliefs of women. Despite the author’s bias, it does have little nuggets of information on mandrakes, witches, and incubi that might be of interest to some of you.

I’ve still got quite the backlog of grimoires to review, which is something of a new situation for me. I think the Ars Notoria will be next, but I’ll have to find a place to fit it into my schedule. One of you put me on to The Complete Illustrated Grand Grimoire, or the Red Dragon, but that’s going to be somewhere in the back.

I received my copy of the Opuscula Cypriani, and it is huge. You can check out my review on what’s inside here.

I’m working on a section of Douce 116 in which someone apparently puts an angel named after Judas Iscariot into a box.

That’s about all for now.

Published in: on February 8, 2020 at 2:10 pm  Comments (2)  

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)  

Midnight in the Desert Tonight

Join me tonight LIVE on Midnight in the Desert with Dave Schrader, 9pm – 12am Pacific Time (12am – 3am EST)!

I’ll be talking about Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits, and probably anything else that comes up.

You can call in from the US at 520-600-MITD, and listen at this link.

 

Published in: on December 17, 2019 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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)  

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  Comments (2)