Review: Skinner and Rankine’s A Cunning Man’s Grimoire

Golden Hoard has put out many books of great utility to all of us interested in early modern works of magic. This one represents a return of both Stephen Skinner and David Rankine as co-editors, the first such effort since The Grimoire of St. Cyprian in 2009. You can pick up cloth editions or leather-bound ones straight from the publisher.

What sets A Cunning Man’s Grimoire apart from previous releases is its excursion into the realm of the magical miscellany, texts which contain a wide variety of different operations and pieces of information, rather than a unified magical system. It’s an area that should be familiar with those who’ve read the Book of Oberon, but it’s a departure for Golden Hoard.

What’s even more interesting about the book is that Skinner and Rankine’s introduction indicates they’re not certain how the book will be received by their audience, both in terms of the organization and the large number of Christian prayers that constitute it. I’m not sure why that would be the case, but both of them are much more tuned into the magical community – and probably more patient – than I am. Suffice to say that anyone who raises issues about a seventeenth-century magical miscellany being disorganized and Christian needs to learn more about such works.

There’s some uncertainty about the origin of the book. There’s some discussion at the beginning about whether Thomas Allen (1540-1632), a tutor from Oxford’s Gloucester Hall. (He’s also a likely owner of the book I just finished for Llewellyn.) I think we might have some confusion here between two different Allens, as dates written in the manuscript are all decades after his death, but this might bear more investigation.

The bulk of the book is a wide-ranging collection of material, rendered in the original spelling. We have collections of experiments dedicated to summoning spirits, sections on astrological timing, tables of planetary angels, spells for fighting animals and theft, and workings for the mansions of the moon. All of this is illustrated with diagrams from the original text, and supplemented further with footnotes, a short index, and a lengthy bibliography.

At times we also see brief commentaries from the copyist on some rites, especially the spirit conjurations, including those of Birto, Askariel, and the three horsemen. He seems to be of two minds about it – keen on reproducing the rituals, but seeming concerned about whether they are appropriate for a holy individual.  This, to me, is the most interesting material, as it reveals the motivations of at least one author who wrote in the genre.

Thus, if you’re interested in magical miscellanies, or early modern astrological magic, or charms and similar topics, you’ll enjoy this book. Check it out.

 

 

 

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Published in: on September 6, 2018 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  

My English Excursion, Part 5

After my previous adventures (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), it was refreshing to spend some time on my own looking at manuscripts.

On some days, I walked over to the British Library early to get into the queue that, by 9:30, stretches across the plaza. I’d head up to the manuscripts room, sit down with my four manuscripts for the day, and work my way through the relevant sections. After I hit the four, I’d be cut off as if I was at a bar, and I’d wander down the road to the Wellcome Institute to peruse their collection.

People aren’t permitted to take pictures in the Reading Room, and if you want to see a reproduction of a manuscript page, you have to fill out this form. I did find a quintessentially British sign in the commissary:

Hot Water Sign

I’ll cut the difference and publish this photo of the cover of Sloane MS. 3826, to give you a taste of what the experience is like:

Sloane 3826 Cover

On other days, I hopped on a train or bus to Oxford, where I visited the Bodleian Library to see their collection. These were long days, but I did get occasional opportunities to see a street fair, or to visit Worcester College, former site of Gloucester Hall, to find the home of Thomas Allen (who I’ve mentioned earlier), with no success.

Worcester College

It’s hard to talk about a typical day, though, because there were so many atypical ones. For example, one day I went to the Society of Antiquaries of London, which you can see here:

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There was also the day I was trying to get cream tea, to try to redeem my ridiculous cream-team related failure in Cornwall that will never been known, and I ended up getting high tea at King’s Cross instead:

High Tea at King's Cross

Apparently some people have wine with high tea. So, wine with tea. No, I don’t get it.

There was the night at Treadwell’s in which I gave everyone a preview of my upcoming Folklore article, with some additional commentary. It was wonderful, as are all my trips to Cornwall.

Yet… there was one trip left to take…

Published in: on August 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – Joe Peterson’s Secrets of Solomon: A Witch’s Handbook from the Trial Records of the Venetian Inquisition

Secrets SolomonJoe Peterson’s new book, Secrets of Solomon, is now out and attracting some attention. If you’d like to purchase it, it’s available through Amazon in paperback and through Lulu in hardback. I ended up buying both – the hardback for my shelf, and the paperback for marking up and carrying around where it can get beat up. I don’t usually make that sort of purchase unless I want to make sure I’m engaging with the text as much as possible, which this work definitely deserves.

Secrets of Solomon is a composite work, in which Joe has painstakingly correlated and compiled several different manuscripts to make a central work. The most complete of these was a manuscript taken from two men tried by the Venetian Inquisition in 1636, but he also covers six other manuscripts, including one from the collection of Gerald Gardner (which seems to have arrived too late to impact his writings on Wicca).

The work itself can be broken down into four parts, which I would briefly describe as follows:

  1.  A precursor of the Grimorium Verum, providing interesting variants on the spirit lists and procedures therein. It begins with three chief spirits, who are aided by a panoply of lesser beings who may also be called upon. Fans of Jake Stratton-Kent’s work will be interested to hear that the book defines these as chthonic and possibly infernal spirit, as opposed to those of the air and fire. It also provides a series of short operations connected with the spirit list, to be performed after one has made an agreement with the spirits, which seems to have been replaced in GV with a miscellaney of experiments.
  2. The spirits of the celestial spheres and the elements are described here, who are served by entities known as the “Amalthai.” We have a long series of instructions for approaching the greater spirits through ritual, along with a set of talismans to be employed toward various ends after the initial content is made.
  3. A work describing operations to deal with the various spirits of the days of the week. This derives from the Heptameron, but delves much more into the powers of individual angels and spirits than that work.
  4. An explanation of creating a “stone,” or clay image, for success in magic, with further notes on various magical techniques taken from pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.

I’ll comment on the implications of this list in my conclusion. The book also has a number of different items of interest: magical words that are actually just misunderstood English, separate instructions for a particular magical experiment based on the sex of the operator, a demon that kills Americans by slapping them with its nose, etc.

One item that deserves mention is the presence in the second section of spirits known as the “Amalthai.” Peterson proposes that this might be a reference to the mythological Greek goat or nymph Amalthea, who nursed Zeus after Rhea hid him away from Kronos. There does appear to be a linguistic similarity between the names, but there’s no other clear link between these spirits and the mythological figure. Perhaps a future manuscript discovery will clarify these issues.

As you can expect from Joe Peterson, all of this is tied together with a thorough introduction, copious footnotes, a list of manuscripts, a comprehensive bibliography, and multiple indices. The only potential omission would be notes for the first section that illustrated the ties to Verum more closely. If you’re interested in that connection, you’ll probably want to keep both books on hand for reference.

I would like to attach one caveat to the book: it’s not the end (or beginning) of the story. If you read my description of the four parts above, you might be wondering how these sections fit together. Simply put, they don’t; the original compiler put them in one work without trying to write connections. What this means is that these works – which date back to the mid-seventeenth century – were likely transmitted on their own for quite some time before being collected.  Thus, Joe’s book is wonderful, but I hope it serves as the springboard for future revelations that will continue to challenge our knowledge of early modern books of magic.

Published in: on July 28, 2018 at 8:00 am  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)  

Forthcoming – The Secrets of Solomon: A Witch’s Handbook from the Trial Records of the Venetian Inquisition (Peterson)

Let’s lead with the link, because I’m sure some of you read the words “Solomon,” “witch,” “Inquisition,” and “Peterson,” and already want to buy it.

For those who still need to be sold…

This grimoire, or handbook of magic, was confiscated by the Venetian Inquisition in 1636 from practicing witches. After decades of searching for this elusive text, I now have the pleasure of presenting and translating it here for the first time. It contains their secret techniques for dealing with the more dangerous spirits or daemons, intentionally scattered and hidden within a collection of “secrets” comprising many detailed examples. Together these provide enough clues to enable practitioners to create their own spells for working with all the spirits cataloged. It distinguishes itself as a supplement to the better known Clavicula Salomonis (“Key of Solomon”); whereas that text focuses on aerial spirits, this one focuses on chthonic spirits. This text is one of the primary original sources for the popular Grimorium Verum.

I think that should do it for everyone else, but just in case… did I mention it’s only $19?

Published in: on June 29, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Forthcoming – A Cunning Man’s Grimoire

I missed posting this one during my trip.

Golden Hoard is back with another publication of a book of magic – A Cunning Man’s Grimoire. Here are some details:

It is a composite grimoire drawn from a number of different sources. It is not the sort of grimoire which has a complete method of calling up a set register of spirits, like the Goetia, nor does it have a wide range of pentacles or talismans like the Key of Solomon.

It is however quite special as it was also was a practising Cunning man’s grimoire, a very interesting blend of learned and local village magic. It also contains a lot of critical astrological information (including its own set of astrological tables) which are an important part of magic, but which don’t feature to a large extent in other grimoires. It goes way beyond Planetary days and hours, to detailed aspects of timing and also contains magical operations connected with the 28 Mansions of the Moon and image magic, which were usually absent from Solomonic grimoires.

Having talked with David Rankine in Boscastle, I should add that it has at least some operations relating to ritual magic, and that it’s from the sixteenth century.  I’ve ordered a copy, and I’ll be reviewing it when it arrives.

Published in: on June 5, 2018 at 7:27 pm  Comments (5)  

Appearance on the Folklore Podcast

I’ve been gone for a few weeks, because I’ve been in England. I promise a full and undesirable travelogue for all of you.

In the meantime, you should know that my lecture, delivered at the Dew of Heaven conference put on by the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, has been recorded and uploaded as the latest episode of The Folklore Podcast.

More to follow!

Published in: on May 23, 2018 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Review of Medicine, Magic, and Art in Early Modern Norway: Conceptualizing Knowledge

I just finished a book that I know most of you will not want to read. But if you’re interested in grimoire manuscripts, you definitely should give Ohrvik’s Medicine, Magic and Art in Early Modern Norway: Conceptualizing Knowledge a look through your local library. (This was a purchased copy, and I’ve got a chapter appearing in an upcoming release from the same publisher.)

Note that I didn’t actually say you should purchase this book. This is for two reasons. First, it’s $100 retail, which is quite expensive.

Second, there’s the binding. As you may have noticed, although I do appreciate a beautifully bound work, I don’t go into raptures about such things. My appreciation of a book as an art object is mitigated by my desire to read it, stack it up, carry it around in my laptop bag for weeks, etc., all of which is made more difficult if it’s nice. But I draw the line when a publisher is asking $100 for a book in which you can hear the glue cracking as you read it. (I’m talking to them about it right now.)

The irony of this is that Ohrvik’s work is dedicated to various aspects of the black books of Norway. Given the censorship prevalent in the Norwegian and Danish press, magic typically traveled through oral transmission or handwritten works. Ohrvik examines many different exemplars of the latter, emphasizing their physical appearance, titles, attributions, and textual organization.  These are aspects of grimoires often overlooked when contemporary occult scholars study such works, so her perspectives on these issues are quite valuable.

Let’s take the size. From the opprobrium directed against these books, one might expect that the compilers would seek to keep them in the smallest size possible. If the surviving books are any indication, however, the most common sizes were the larger quarto and octavo formats. This, along with the wear placed upon them, suggests that the black books of Norway were kept secreted away in households for use, rather than carried on the person to be consulted in other settings.

Another section is devoted to those responsible for such books – whether we define them as authors, copyists, compilers, or the figures to which they are attributed. This brings us to St. Cyprian, and there is considerable discussion of this figure as relates to the attribution of these works and his purported areas of expertise.  There’s only so far that manuscript titles and introductions can take us when assembling a picture of Cyprian, and Ohrvik supplements it through discussing similar traditions in the rest of Europe – although she misses the Iberian examples, for some reason.

Yet it’s not perfect, as setting content analysis aside doesn’t always provide the entire picture. For example, Early Modern Norway has an excellent discussion of claims many black books make to originate in Wittenberg – yet it is silent on the question of how much of the content of these works might actually have their origins from that city, or other German sources. Likewise, Ohrvik elsewhere hypothesizes that the authors’ inclusion of elements more common in prestigious printed books shows a recognition that private works might eventually become more public. If we consider the content of the manuscript, however, as an expression of and adjunct to the magical efficacy of its owner, we might see that imitating a prestigious format of publication may be a strategy of legitimizing both the contents and one’s own magical practice.

This is not to say that this work is not valuable, but that future collaborations between those examining the physical aspects of the books and their contents might yield even more fruit.

I would have appreciated it if Orhvik had included a lengthy catalogue of the manuscripts covered in the book. This is only a minor concern, however, as most of them are fully digitised online by the University of Oslo.

Thus, if you’re interested in learning about what we know about books of magic beyond the charms and incantations therein, this one may be for you, although you should note my concerns about price point and quality above. If you prefer the magical formulae itself, please feel free to give it a pass.

 

 

 

Published in: on May 5, 2018 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

Edward Hunter’s Key of Rabbi Solomon and Mormonism

Recently, commenter Adonia Zanoni asked me to write a review of the nineteenth-century Key of Rabbi Solomon, as issued by Hell Fire Club.  This is probably late for most potential buyers, as only the 11-copy super deluxe edition remains for sale, but I’ll handle this as best I’m able.

Full disclosure: I might be working with Hell Fire on a project in the future, so keep that in mind when reading this review.

The Key consists of two booklets, one consisting of a facsimile of the original manuscript of the Key (currently in private hands), and the other a brief introduction to and transcript of the manuscript. All of this is attractively presented and printed, although you’ll certainly see differences based upon the edition acquired (I went for the cheap kidskin).

As for the manuscript itself, I’ve compared it with the Sibley Clavis edited by Joseph Peterson. Most of it corresponds in organization and chapters to that manuscript, although the text is different enough to suggest a different translator – up to a point.  That is, the book breaks off in the middle of the chapter of the talismans of Mercury, corresponding to Wednesday. Thus, if you were expecting a full Key, you will be disappointed.

Yet, sad to say, I’ve had to back burner a more in-depth examination of the book, in order to deal with one particular aspect of the book. Let’s look at the title page:

The Keys
of
Rabbi Solomon

Translated accurately from the
Hebrew into English
by
Edward Hunter

According to the book’s introduction included in the transcript, this Edward Hunter is identical to the man of the same name (1793-1883) who served as the presiding bishop of the Church of Latter-Day Saints for over three decades. Here are some illustrative quotes from the introduction:

It is now little surprise to that we find yet another top Mormon leader who has transcribed what can be determined as highly ritualized, magical, Solomonic arts.

This manuscript is hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.

This manuscript is indeed that “smoking gun”, finally putting to rest the question surrounding Mormon Hermeticism, Kabbalism, and the practice of Solomonic ritual magic.

So – is it the “smoking gun”? Connections between the early Mormons, especially Joseph Smith, and ceremonial magic have been hotly debated back and forth for years. If I might dip into a highly complex and controversial question, I can say that what little literature I’ve read on the topic on both sides shows little knowledge of the literature and practice of ritual magic.

Let’s focus in on this manuscript now, with a discussion examination of the title page above. I think most readers will already be aware that King Solomon did not write any of the “keys” associated with him. Further, the Key of Solomon‘s origins lie in the Greek Hygromanteia, with no proof of Hebrew origins; indeed, what Hebrew copies we have, such as the Gollancz edition, are copies of much later editions translated into Hebrew. The introduction to the transcript claims that Hunter “transcribed” the book, but that is incorrect with regard to the statement on the title page, on which Hunter claims to have translated the book from Hebrew. I can expect a certain degree of deception on the title page of a grimoire, but this certainly raises questions as to how much we can believe any one part of it.

Next, is the Edward Hunter to whom this manuscript is ascribed the same person as the Mormon Bishop? As I’ve learned through researching figures such as “William Bellhouse” and “George Graham,” making sure that one has the right person out of many with a similar name is crucial when it comes to history. Can we connect these two Edward Hunters?

The book provides little helpful material. In the original listing, Hell Fire noted that the watermark of “Whatmans 1827” appeared on the paper. (This piece of information seems to have been lost in a website move that occurred in the last week, but you can still read it here.) Thus, it’s quite plausible that the date of composition occurred during Bishop Hunter’s life.

Beyond that, however, the old Hell Fire website description only tells us that the manuscript “is believed by specialists to have been [created] sometime around 1830 by the Bristol based merchant Edward Hunter,” who “later had links to the Mormon groups in the United States.” This was certainly not Bishop Hunter, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Thus, we have a gap between the promotional material and the introduction.

As you might recalled, we were assured that the the book is “hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.” In that case, we might compare it to other writings attributed to him, including this letter from Edward Hunter to Joseph Smith from October 27, 1841. This is treacherous ground, as I cannot say definitively that one or the other of these documents was not written for Hunter by a clerk or employee, although the number of errors in both suggests a professional scribe was not involved in either one.

Nonetheless, I have gone through a few pages of both documents, extracted images of identical words, and present them below, based upon the principle of fair use:

Word Hunter Letter Hunter Clavis
That  Hunter Letter That  Hunter Clavis That
All  Hunter Letter All  Hunter Clavis Illustrations All
The Hunter Letter The Hunter Clavis Illustrations The
Expences  Hunter Letter Expences  Hunter Clavis Illustrations Expences
Being Hunter Letter Being Hunter Clavis Illustrations Being
And Hunter Letter And Hunter Clavis Illustrations And
Proper Hunter Letter Proper Hunter Clavis Illustrations Proper

The above items speak for themselves – but in case it remains unclear, I should point out in particular the crossbars in the “t”s in “that,” the lower part of the “g” in “being,” and the curve on the “d” in “and.”

At this point, the evidence points away from the Mormon bishop as the transcriber or translator of the book. I should add that, after having contacted the publisher, the editor, and a researcher involved in the Hunter Clavis, I have yet to see any countervailing evidence that might convince me otherwise. Perhaps it will be forthcoming in the following weeks, and I will update this post if it is.

Want to know more about the book? Do you have a perspective on the evidence? In either case, just leave it in the comments below.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 6:33 pm  Comments (4)  

Your Blogger Gets with the Ways of the Youth – Japanese Grimoires and Powwowing

That’s right, everyone! I’m going to demonstrate what a hep cat I am, posting images like the kids are doing on their Instachat! And it’s not just because AncientHistory sent me some fun books that are all in Japanese:

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Japanese grimoires aplenty!

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The Key of Solomon

Key of Solomon Seal of Mercury

Ryukyodo 2007

The first of two books with pictures of Goetic spirits

II Spirits of Solomon

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The demon Sabnock, who can inflict gangrene on you if you’re not careful.

If any readers have more insight into these books, please post in the comments.

I’ve also got some shots of Patrick Donmoyer’s new book Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life. You can order copies directly from the Cultural Heritage Center through this form, or from Masthof Press in hardcover and softcover.

Powwowing in Pennsylvania Cover

This is the hardcover edition, sent to me by Patrick.

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Some of the beautiful pictures inside the book, depicting folk magic procedures.

Three Cross Knife and powwowing cane

You heard about the black-handled knife? Wait until you find out about the Three Cross Knife. Also, we can see some powwowing canes.

Three Kings Blessing

One of the stunning publications preserved in the Heilman Collection.

That’s all for now. I’ll see about reviewing the Hunter Clavis next week!

Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 9:32 am  Comments (3)