Update on the Newberry Book of Magical Charms

Do you recall the news that the Newberry Library in Chicago was transcribing a seventeenth-century British book of spells? I certainly do, because everyone in the world told me about it.

The Chicago Tribune brings us an update, with the usual fake scares and cheesiness, emphasizing just how successful this project was. The entire work has now been transcribed and translated, with a JSON file version available of the entire text.

We can hope that other libraries with similar books might see the success and good publicity from this project and provide us with similar opportunities very soon.

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Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Bellingrandt and Otto’s Magical Manuscripts in Early Modern Europe

In 1710, a huge collection of magical, cabalistic, and alchemical manuscripts, part of the collection of medical professional Samuel Schröer, came up for sale. In that climate of official censorship, pulling off such an exchange would seem remarkable – but the agent put out a small catalog, most likely circulated face to face, and a buyer was located for the bulk of the books.

This large collection, mostly intact, now rests at the Leipzig University Library – if you’d like to see it yourself, Mihai Vartejaru has provided a list of the digitized copies with convenient links. What the new book Magical Manuscripts in Early Modern Europe, by Daniel Bellingradt and Bernd-Christian Otto, provides is not the text of these works, but a history and description of the collection.  The work is released as part of the Palgrave Pivot series, dedicated to releasing shorter pieces of scholarship than what might usually appear in book format.

The main portion of the book provides a brief discussion of manuscripts of ritual magic, the details of the collection’s sale, and its significance within the book trade, the intellectual climate, and the legal system of the time.  All of this is interesting – save for the background on magical books which is available through other sources – but it is also very brief.  By my count, it covers about thirty-five pages, not including references – the length of a long-form journal article.  I hesitate to mention this, but given the book’s price, I think it deserves to be mentioned.

The real meat of the book, however, is in the first appendix: a detailed list of the 140 books in the collection, most of which still survive and are available. For each one in which the information is known, we are told the title(s), ascribed authors, size and pagination, languages, and contents.  The latter are quite diverse.  We have treatises on astronomy, Kabbala, and numerology, along with a few different versions of the Key of Solomon. We also have manuscripts attributed to Abramelin and Faust that are printed elsewhere, and a wide variety of works dedicated to all manner of talismans, consecrations, and other procedures.  Collections have been dedicated to love, hate, military matters, treasure hunting, invisibility, and other purposes.  A number of brief operations of note are also present. Two will conjure the infamous Baron, while another calls for bringing a pizza to the crossroads. No doubt everyone in the occult hipster community will be talking about the magical crossroads pizza in a few years…

Anyway, the authors give us seventy pages of this material, which will be the major draw of the book for most of you. The work is rounded out with a reprint of the original 1710 catalog and a brief index.

What would have really driven this book over the top would have been a discussion beyond the context of the collection, diving into its contents. What do the contents tell us about its owners? What were their areas of particular interest? Were they practitioners or collections? (At least one owner seems to have been using these works, a notice buried in the endnotes tells us.) Is it missing any notable period works? Given the sheer amount of material, any analysis would have to be lengthy and detailed, but with the length of the main text, I think there could certainly have been room.

In brief, the discussion of the collection’s milieu is interesting but brief, the modern catalog of the manuscripts is amazing and thought-provoking, and all of this deals with a collection of manuscripts of which we will be hearing a great deal in the future. No, I don’t know of anyone else working on them, but there definitely will be soon.  I should note that it contains no actual transcripts of particular rites, lest anyone seek them out.  Nonetheless, the book is a preview of the next stage in grimoire scholarship and publishing, and you should definitely get it if that interests you.

UPDATE, 11/11: That lengthy appendix detailing the contents of all the books has been posted on Academia.edu.

Published in: on October 8, 2017 at 12:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 6 – Possible Solutions

So, having gone through the roles of publishing (1 and 2), libraries, collecting , and authors, when it comes to the price of occult books.  What are the solutions, then?

Let’s begin with the proposition that the availability of the content of occult books is something that is a common good.  This should be balanced against the desire of creators and publishers to make money off of their work, and to create beautiful and artistic objects as they see fit.  This is mitigated by the fact that, once a limited edition book goes out of print, neither authors nor publishers are likely to see meaningful returns upon them.

So, what can be done?  I’m going to suggest some options.  Perhaps some of them have been tried before, and others may only work in particular situations, but I think all of them deserve some thought. I’d like to give examples of publishers and authors who are already using some of these strategies.

  • Making less expensive editions available:  The premier publisher for this right now is Scarlet Imprint, which publishes its works in both premium editions and its Bibliothèque Rouge imprint of paperbacks.  We also have some items in the Penn State Magic in History series, which have cheap e-books available of their higher price print books. (If you’ve bought books from their series through Amazon, check the prices there; I bought the print edition of Forbidden Rites from them nineteen years ago, and I was able to pick up the e-book a few weeks ago for $2.) The releases could be simultaneous, or the cheaper edition might appear some months or years down the line.
  • Make the text freely available. I might include here how we published a transcription of Folger V.b.26 online.   Here’s another example. Owen Davies just co-authored a book, Executing Magic in the Modern Era, which deals with all manner of folklore and beliefs about the power of executioners and the trappings of executions.  It’s a bit pricey for the content, I have to admit – save that it’s a Creative Comments document.  Clicking on that link above will get you an authorized PDF.
  • Working with libraries:  Both the United States and the UK have depository programs, in which every copy of a book published in the country is to be sent to a library.  This is rarely enforced, but it provides an incentive for a publisher to make a copy available to someone able to travel there.

It might also be possible to make a donation of a book to an appropriate library.  I would suggest finding a library with appropriate collections and speaking with an appropriate person on the staff, so the library doesn’t accidentally put the work in the local book sale.

I acknowledge that any of these will nonetheless leave certain barriers in place, as the ability to travel, access the Internet, or obtain credit cards or other means of online purchase may limit those able to access them.  Nonetheless, it might be a good start.

Are these plausible?  Could we try other methods?  I’d be interested to hearing what you have to say.

 

 

 

Published in: on September 20, 2017 at 6:31 pm  Comments (2)  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 5 – The Author’s Perspective

Now that we’ve gone over occult publishing from the perspective of publishing (1 and 2), libraries, and collecting – what about the role of creators and editors?  Fortunately, I can give some perspective on this as well.

I write a lot of different pieces, although these days they all come back to the topic of ritual magic. (For anything who thinks there’s big money in the field, the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is still my best seller.)  That includes both academic works (journal articles, book chapters, and the like), and editions of texts geared toward a more popular audience, whether longer works with fewer illustrations (Book of Oberon, The Long-Lost Friend) or shorter ones which have the full text reproduced (Experimentum Potens Magna).

My writing and editing can take different tactics for different reasons.  Some projects are being part of the academic conversation, which are among the expectations of me in a college setting.  This means publishing in academic forums, which sometimes have a particular price tag attached due to the nature of that field.

We also have the shorter manuscripts that have elements that will be of interest to readers, whether graphics, handwriting, or other aspects thereof.  A facsimile edition of such a work is useful and notable – and comes with an appropriate price tag.

A longer edited work of a mainly textual nature, such as The Long-Lost Friend and Oberon, is the area in which it is possible to create affordable editions suitable for a larger audience.  (I acknowledge that “affordable” for a $60 retail book may be considered relative by some readers.)

This does lead to situations in which some of my creations are not available to many readers, and it’s one I’d like to address.  I’m going to start examining my options for making these more broadly available, without violating my relationships with the publishers, artists, and other individuals who made the original creations possible.  I can already tell it might be difficult, on top of everything else I’ve got going on, so please feel free to ask where I am on it.

Next time, I conclude with some thoughts on what authors like me and publishers can do to help to make their work more accessible.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 30, 2017 at 2:01 pm  Comments (1)  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 3 – The Role of Libraries

In previous posts, we’ve talked about factors that drive up the price of occult books, and books that are high-priced despite this.  I only have part of the story here, and I’d encourage people to comment on what they know.

Are libraries the solution to these problems?

They would seem to be, at first.  You’ve got a large number of institutions which have entire budgets dedicated to acquiring material for its users, defined in terms of a particular community of scholars or practitioners, or the public at large.  They have immense databases that provide information from thousands (I’m being very conservative here) of different publishers.  What’s more, these libraries often lend their books and articles to other libraries, thereby maximizing the ability of even small town centers to access works from around the world. Wouldn’t this be a great boon for the occult community?

Libraries are a great boon, but this does not mean that they do not come with their problems.  One of these is the greatest explosion of information that the world has ever seen, most of which comes with a price tag that’s often substantial.  At the same time, library budgets have not increased.   This ProQuest whitepaper from last year shows that four-fifths of the academic library respondents have reduced their purchasing power for monographs, either due to budget reductions or because their flat budgets give them less purchasing power.  And the United States is much better off than the UK, where libraries are being closed and staff being slashed in favor of volunteers, as part of an austerity-based governance philosophy.  Thus, as the amount of information rises, the ability to process and provide that information to the public shrinks.

Most of the cost associated with this is driven by large publishers interested in short-term payoffs to shareholders rather than providing information to the public.  This has led to an emphasis on books priced at a point where libraries are the intended purchasers.  I don’t know the publishing end, but my uninformed guess is that publisher marketing is one part detailed analysis, trend-watching, and number-crunching, and one part pawing through goat entrails in the woods on a dark night.

Thus, you end up with a situation where publishers decide they’re going to sell to libraries, but libraries are buying less.  Thus, they need to drive up the prices to meet the new margins, which makes the books more expensive, while libraries are buying less… The net effect is to lower the number of books that can be purchased, at a time when more books than ever are appearing.  This situation is likely to become more messy as the years go by, and the end result may not be beneficial to scholarship.

What about interlibrary loan?  This does do a great deal to mitigate this situation, but it only helps so much. All of the lending libraries are under the same financial constraints as the others, which often means that books have to be borrowed from farther away, with increases in shipping and time.  Libraries are often unwilling to lend newly-released books they’ve purchased for their own patrons, and some charge fees or place other restrictions on the service.  Further, I’m just discussing U. S. libraries here – I get the impression that ILL services are fairly good in Europe, and I’m not sure about the rest of the world.

Having set the stage, let’s turn to books on the occult.  We face special challenges here. First, libraries typically seek purchases in particular fields that meet the needs of their patrons.  In academic libraries, these are largely based upon the traditional divisions of the disciplines.  Items that do not fit neatly within these divisions, such as esoteric books, may not be purchased simply because it doesn’t fit the model.

Also, occult books bring with them a set of preconceived notions about the topics within that affects their treatment.  I would love to believe that librarians would not exclude such books simply because of their subject matter – and I believe the vast majority would not do so – but some would.  On the other hand, we also have communities in which such books are looked upon with suspicion, and where patrons might be less likely to ask for them – or to steal them to avoid the judgment of anyone.  The theft of occult books from libraries would make for a fascinating study, but anecdotal evidence indicates it’s a real problem for many libraries. And even the impression that it’s a problem might cause librarians to divert their funds elsewhere.

Also, let’s not forget that many occult works these days are being released by small presses, outside the regular distribution chains.  If you were able to buy a book from Amazon, or a similar one from a small press that required a special invoice and that required you to check to make sure you’d received the item after payment, which one would you choose?  Most of us would choose the former – and that’s a risk we’d be taking with our own funds, let alone those of an employer.  Thus, a great number of the books released these days on occultism are not likely to be purchased by a library anywhere.

This brings us to purchasers and collectors, who will be the topic of my next post.

 

Published in: on April 28, 2017 at 6:29 pm  Comments (3)  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 2

In our first part, I looked at some factors that I think may drive up the price of the book in justifiable manners.  On the other hand, there are some practices that I think are less excusable, and I’d like to talk about them here.

When thinking about this post, however, I realized that an emphasis on small presses might seem unfair.  Fortunately, the large ones provide much better examples.  Let’s take a look at a few, which I’ve picked largely because they’re free of the potential cost-increasing factors mentioned in the first part.

Let’s take the Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West.  This is the best historical summary of the course of Western magic that I have ever read.  The authors of the chapters are top-notch, it uses appropriate but sparse black and white illustrations, and it’s a hardback without any fancy binding.

It’s also $165 retail, which I consider to be completely unacceptable.  Even the Kindle edition is over $100.  This is well over the amount I want to invest in a non-primary text, and I only own it due to the generosity of my parents at Christmas.  (It fell out of a broken bag into a drift of dirty snow a few days later, of course.)  It’s a shame that such a useful, informative, educational work should be so expensive that only collectors and larger libraries can possibly purchase it.

Then we have Brill.  Oh, what can we say about Brill?  We have this great edition of Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia in the original Latin, with footnotes covering the influences, an in-depth introduction, and other goodies.  This is $150 – although I suppose you have to make up the losses in sale for publishing a book in Latin somehow.  Past offerings have sometimes been over $200.

If you scroll through their catalog online running a search on “magic,” you’ll see – hey, some of these prices have dropped considerably.  Sure, if you want the Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals, there’s a substantial cost, and I’m sure many readers will still find a $60 paperback outrageous, but it appears they’ve slashed their prices effectively in half from some of those I’ve seen in the past and included a paperback edition here or there.  So, slight kudos there.

I was also going to cite the Ashgate Research Companion to Medieval Magic, another work from reputable scholars in the field at a price point around $150, if I remember correctly.  It appears that the book has been transferred to Routledge, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it.  We should bear in mind, however, that the Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism and the Occult is now available only as an $120 ebook – and, for the record, contains very little about the “occult.”

This leads us to another exacerbating factor – large publishers’ use of buzzwords in titles to drive sales.  Small presses, in my experience, are very up front in their descriptions of their works. If they say that a work is an exploration of some “current,” for example, I know I can safely ignore it.  (That’s my preference, and yours may differ.)  If an academic book has “magic” or “occult” in the title, it might be a work dealing with those topics exclusively, or someone might have thrown in a chapter on those topics at the last minute so they could make it more salable.  Thus, not only are you buying an expensive book, it could be a practically useless one.

My most expensive purchase in this regard was Karl Bell’s The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914.  Given that I regularly write about nineteenth-century magicians such as George Graham and Frederick Hockley, I thought it might be a good purchase.  What did not find, however, was the index online, which I believe has been posted since the book appeared.  If you scroll down to the entries on “magic,” you can see why I was disappointed – and out over $100.

I’m sure that many readers will have thought by now, “But these books are priced for library purchase, not for private individuals!” Next time, I’ll deal with that question, while also turning the focus back to smaller presses.

 

 

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 3:14 pm  Comments (5)  

John Harries’ Book of Incantations

I’m trying something to see if it works out: embedding a manuscript from the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, or National Library of Wales.  The work is the notebook of John Harries (c. 1785-1839), a cunning man of Cwrty-Cadno, Carmarthenshire.

Most of the book consists of materials taken from elsewhere, but the first treatise is a handwritten version of the Goetia which seems to include some seals not present elsewhere.  I offer it for your appreciation – just don’t ask me to pronounce any of the Welsh words above.

https://viewer.library.wales/build/lib/embed.js/* wordpress fix */

Update: No luck with the embed, so just try this link.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm  Comments (2)  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 2

On the second day of my trip, I went to the railroad station in Truro and picked up a nice little blue Audi and drove off.

US people often wonder whether driving on the left in the UK is difficult.  I didn’t think so.  Of course, if you’re tooling around country roads between Cornish hedges, there’s often little or no difference between the left and right sides of the road.  It turns out that my chief problem was believing all the speed limit signs were in kilometers and not miles.  I think this was highly annoying to people on the highway, but once I got off the main roads, it wasn’t bad.  There seems to be a reluctance to tool about in Cornwall, some of which is cultural and some the price of gas, so no one was following me for long enough to be bothered.

I decided to do a northeast coast run on my first day, so my first stop was Tintagel, the medieval fortress and supposed location where King Arthur was conceived.  It’s an impressive site, especially if you’re up for a scramble or two up and down the sides of hills.  There’s not much left of the castle at all, but the views more than make up for it:

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Here’s a shot after climbing the cliff into the castle proper:

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You can’t see Merlin’s Cave, the tunnel that runs through the head of the peninsula, save at low tide.  I hadn’t checked the tides beforehand, but I managed to luck out.

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I didn’t cover the whole site, because I had a more important goal:  the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic at Boscastle, where I wanted to view a few books in their small but excellent library.  In particular, I wanted to view their photocopy of Lenciewicz’s manuscript that we published in Oberon, to see if the earlier reproduction was in better shape.  (It wasn’t, but I did get a reading or two out of it.)  The staff was quite helpful in getting me set up and helping to guide me around the collection (Dewey system, for any curious librarians), as was Tom the Dalmatian.  After that, I partook of the museum collection, of which I’d heard a great deal over the years.

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A shelf of magical ingredients!

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A reconstructed cunning woman’s hut.

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Is this Austin Osman Spare’s scrying crystal?

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Here I am, massive-humidity hair and all, with the museum’s famous goat mask.

At the museum’s small gift shop, I stopped to pick up a few books, most notably Mark Norman’s Black Dog Folklore and Cassandra Latham-Jones’ Village Witch.

…and now I’ve realized this post is far too long without getting into the rest of the day, so I’ll cut it off here.

 

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:40 pm  Comments (2)  

Spirits in the Library – Lilith

queen of the nightFor the next contestant in our series, let’s look at Lilith.

Lilith first comes to our attention in Sumerian times, where she appears as a hostile spirit known as “Lilu.”  Biblical texts are often ambiguous about her, but the oral tradition of Judaism establishes her as the first wife of Adam and develops her character as a night-spirit who kills infants due to her own lack of children.  Lilith shows up rarely in grimoire, but she has since been largely rehabilitated in contemporary literature.

(Note: I’ve included a picture here of the “Queen of the Night” stela at the British Library, even though there’s little scholarly support today for the figure depicted being Lilith herself.)

Bane – A two-part entry, dividing a two page entry for “Lilith” from a short one of “Lilith the Lesser.”  It deals with the Mesopotamian and Judaic lore in some length, as well as an impressive list of alternative names for her.  Bibliography includes a number of good sources on the topic.

Belanger – Oh, this is nice.  A column and a half on Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, a little less on the Jewish folklore than I’d expected, and a bonus mention of the Munich Handbook.

de Plancy – Now, this is weird.  Just a short paragraph, covering her mythology as an attacker of infants, and her presence in Wierus and other works.  There’s a great deal more that could have been said here, even given that some of the Mesopotamian material was not available to them.

Gettings – Rather surprising here, this entry includes not only the material and other sources, but also “Gnostic and Rosicrucian medieval traditions,” which sounds a bit dubious, as well as fictional appearances.  It also has a depiction of Lilith as a demon from a Hebrew amulet.

Guiley – This is quite the good entry – over two whole columns, dealing with various religious and magical sources.  She could have probably pushed back to Sumerian mythology a little harder, and one set of statements about Lilith appearing in other belief systems – including Mexican and Native American – is highly suspect.

Lurker – A brief paragraph covering her appearances in the Old Testament, the Talmud, and Babylonian belief.

Mack – A four-page section, which deals with a broad range of folklore from Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources, including a strange tale about Solomon using a mirror to unmask her.

That should do it.  Next time, my summary and recommendations.

 

Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Spirits in the Library – Mephistopheles

For our fourth installment in our series (for the first three, see here), we’ll be looking at Mephistopheles.

Mephistopheles FaustMephistopheles is an unusual demon, insofar as his first appearance was in works of fiction based upon the life of the magician Georgius Sabellicus Faustus.  When grimoires began to be attributed to Faust, Mephistopheles followed along as one of the spirits with which magicians could make conduct and work.   At the same time, he’s accumulated an impressive list of appearances in the various incarnations of the Faust legend across many types of media.

Most of the books we discussed had entries on Mephistopheles, with the only exception being Mack.

Bane – Notes the fictional origins of the prince of demons, as well as his later inclusion into grimoires.  Oddly enough, then claims that certain aspects turn up in “medieval literature” (which would have predated its appearance).  A nice bibliography, as it mentions Butler’s Ritual Magic.

Belanger – This draws upon both the fictional and grimoire traditions, and is likely the most lucid of the entries.  It would have been nice to see it branch out into the figure’s uses in more than simply the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, however.

Davidson – A nice paragraph, listing both fictional and grimoire appearances, though not quite systematically.

de Plancy – Nothing more than a brief and purple description of the horrible effects he has on humans, followed with a reference to the Faust entry.

Gettings – One paragraph referring entirely to the fictional sources, with no mention of the grimoires.

Guiley – This entry covers both Mephistopheles in Faust and in the grimoires, moving back and forth between the two for reasons I have yet to determine.  Nonetheless, it does touch on both the fiction and the magic.

Lurker – A short paragraph, with a misleading statement that it was “the name of the devil in the literature of necromancy and magic in the late Middle Ages.”

On this one, I felt Bane did the best, followed by Belanger and Guiley.

Who’ll be next?  We’ll find out in a week!

 

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm  Comments (4)