Publishing Update

Hey, everyone. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?

My local campus has had a high positivity rate. Although I generally feel safe, working under those conditions can be quite draining – I’m sure many of you are aware of this.

The Book of Four Wizards (provisional title) has been submitted to Llewellyn. S. Aldarnay was nice enough to mock up the circle above, based on the illustrations and instructions in the book. It’s not something shown in the manuscript, as it exceeded the copyist’s ability to draw it – but modern technology and a good artist made it happen.

I’ve also sent in comments on the witch bottle book.

I’ve wrapped my DCC game, with one player betraying the rest to the Court of Chaos and escaping. Given that they all privately agreed with various individuals to betray the others, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them.

My Pendragon and Slavic games are still ongoing.

I’ve got a post or two in the hopper, so I’ll get to them next. One is a review of the second volume of Dr. Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria. So come back soon!

Published in: on September 17, 2021 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  

Stealth NYC Trip, Fairies under the Elders, Online Manuscripts, Anti-Semitism in Magical Works

I made a quick trip to NYC to drop off a copy of the Bellhouse book at the NYPL. I didn’t schedule time to see others – just stopped at a couple of shops, grabbed some Middle Eastern food, and headed back upstate. I hope to visit again soon.

My article, “The Herb and the Lady under the Elder at Noon: Analysis of an Early Modern Magical Ritual,” has appeared in the fifth issue of The Enquiring Eye, the journal of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

I’ve found a few works of interest in the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland. This short copy of a book purporting to be Faust’s Höllenzwang might be the sort of thing Papers readers should like.

Phil Legard notes that the Lecouteux book I showed in the last post has some problematic content. Having looked at it, I can confirm one of the passages chosen has one anti-Semitic account which I’m not sure adds much to the work. Admittedly, even my own books do include statements from our early modern authors blaming the Jewish people unfairly, as many authors of the time did. I’m going to be doing my best to note such passages and their significances as I go forward.

The Precious Apothecary review will appear next week.

Published in: on June 13, 2021 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Clavis Goetica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Wizards Jump to the Fore, Upcoming Magical Events

Today’s image, poor as it is, represents two pages from the Éditions du Monolithe Liber Thozgraeci, another lineage of the Key of Solomon, displaying the seals of of the seventy-two names of God.

Projects have called me away from writing here. I’ve had to prioritize jumping back into the research on eighteenth and nineteenth-century astrology and alchemy, as well as the complex and contentious saga of Olivia Serres. Next, witch bottles, and then back into the text written by the Four Wizards themselves for final / lengthy tightening up.

Stephen Skinner and Daniel Clark are preparing to release Volume 2 of their Ars Notoria. Note that the product description on Amazon seems to be that of Volume 1; I believe the new work will be on more of the operative end of matters.

During my hiatus, I’ve missed a great deal of events that I wished to tell you about. There’s an event with PSU Press this Friday with four authors of recent books in their History of Magic series, which should be worth seeking out. The Warburg Institute has also had some interesting magical talks, such as this one.

Friend of the blog Al Cummins had a talk on necromancy given in recognition of the latest Magic: The Gathering Release. Watch it here.

The Arkham Gazette 3, including my article on Goody Fowler, is now available in print on demand here.

I’ll try to keep up.

Published in: on April 27, 2021 at 9:04 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)  

The Elucidarium Elucidated, Magic of Rogues Escapes, A Modern Liber Spirituum, Even More Books, Your Bank Account Suffers, Book of Four Wizards, Gaming

I wasn’t sure quite what to blog about this week, but I was provided with a variety of riches from friends, email, and social media. First, Joseph Peterson came to the rescue with a new book, Elucidation of Necromancy, to be issued in December:

Since it first appeared over 500 years ago, the Elucidation of Necromancy (Lucidarium artis Nigromantice) and the closely related Heptameron have become essential guides for individuals seeking to call on angels and other supernatural beings for help. Countless amulets and pendants have been made with its designs, and elements have repeatedly been adapted and incorporated into other manuals of ritual magic. In spite of this, neither a critical edition nor a translation has been previously published. In particular three manuscripts of Lucidarium have come to light recently, which provide a clearer and fuller ritual than the printed Heptameron. For example, they add critical instructions for making the seven angel sigils, which have become so widely known. Together they bring to life this important current of esoteric tradition, showing how it has been repeatedly adapted and used by different individuals for centuries.

Bobby D. also pointed out to me that Klaassen and Wright’s Magic of Rogues is available on Kindle ahead of the print publication, so this has jumped to the front of my reading queue for the time being. One of the first footnotes portends another release from the same authors: Everyday Magicians in Tudor England: Legal Records and Magical Manuscripts.

We also have a twentieth-century work with some deep grimoire roots – Paul Huson’s Liber Spirituum, due out in May:

Drawing on this wellspring of knowledge and such venerable works as the Key of Solomon, The Magus, Heptameron, Three Books of Occult Philosophy as well as others set down a unique and informed set of rituals, in addition to employing his own artistry in the creation of distinctive imagery.

Using the highest quality photographic reproduction and printing methods, Paul’s personal grimoire has here been faithfully and accurately reproduced for the first time. In addition to preserving the ink quality and use of gold and silver paint, this facsimile reproduction has maintained all of Huson’s corrections, including torn, pasted, missing pages and his hand drawn and renumbered folios. Preserved as well are the unique characteristics of the original grimoire paper as it has aged through the decades. In this way, the publisher has stayed true to Paul Huson’s Book of Spirits as it was originally drawn and painted.

Editiones du Monolithe is releasing another work this month: a facsimile edition of a Key of Solomon from the Tozgraec text group held at the Russian State Library.

Finally, we have the second volume in Troy Books’ reproductions of J. H. W. Eldermans’ work(s) on gnomes, the Gnome Grimoire, edited by Wilbur Taal. My sense is that these are much more works of a creative mind than compilations of folklore, but it might be of interest to readers nonetheless.

As for the Book of Four Wizards, I’ve been poking into what I thought at first was some sort of magical amulet made in the shape of three crosses. As it turned out, it’s actually a devotional work by the seventeenth-century Tavistock poet William Browne – you can see an example of it here. I’m not quite sure what the original author’s intent was – as a work of poetry? Did they view it as an amulet?

The Pendragon game has gone into Anarchy, so everything is upended and crazy and wonderful. Both my Dungeon Crawl Classics games, of which I speak very little here, are steaming along.

Talk to you in a week, when maybe I’ll have read something.

Published in: on March 6, 2021 at 11:48 am  Comments (4)