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.* 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:


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


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.


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.


A shelf of magical ingredients!

IMG_3312 update

A reconstructed cunning woman’s hut.


Is this Austin Osman Spare’s scrying crystal?


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)  

Spirits in the Library – Baron

Last time in our Spirits in the Library series, we looked at various demonic dictionaries’ entries on Asmodeus.  This time, we present another such spirit – Baron.

Baron, Folger V.b.26.  Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron, Folger V.b.26. Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron’s a curious one, who floats around the edges of the grimoire tradition.  His most famous mentions come from the transcripts of the trial of Gilles de Rais, which describe him being offered human remains as what seems to have been a spontaneous “hey, why not?” gesture on the part of the (human) baron as part of his magical rituals.  Baron also shows up in the Book of Oberon, as well as a smattering of other sources around the edges.  I’ve selected him due to his status as an infamous but little-appearing spirit, which might test the thoroughness of the sources.

Having checked my sources, it seems I might have done far too well with this one.  The vast majority of our reference works have no mention of him whatsoever, even after I searched for variant spellings and for Gilles himself.  The only one who deals with him at all was de Plancy, who only gives a brief paragraph.

This one was a huge surprise.  Given the variety of selections, I was prepared for at least some of them to be missing Baron, but not for his near-complete absence.   He does receive attention in de Plancy (who I assume all these authors are examining) and Butler’s Ritual Magic, so he’s not completely out of left field.  I think some more examples might help us decide how all of them stack up.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm  Comments (5)  

A New England Sojourn

I spent part of last week in New England, with Donovan K. Loucks, keeper of the H. P. Lovecraft Website, and his lovely wife Pam.  I arrived on Tuesday, driving up to Providence after work and ending up quite exhausted.

I wasn’t too exhausted, however, to head into Cambridge to visit the Harvard University Archives, trying to obtain some background that might be useful for future projects dealing with the Widener Library.  My carefully-copied archive number turned out to be illusory, but the staff were very helpful in figuring out what documents might be most relevant for my search – although they’d have to be called the next day.  That was fine with me, and I filled out the rest of the afternoon visiting the Boston Public Library to consult old directories to fill out my knowledge of the place in the Twenties.  After that, I returned to Providence to attend Donovan’s birthday party for H. P. Lovecraft, complete with a one-man retelling of “The Call of Cthulhu” by dramatist David Neilsen and Donovan’s own walking-while-sitting tour through Lovecraft’s Providence.  Also, there was cake.

Lovecraft Birthday Cake

The next day, I was back at the Archives, which I finished rather early.  Having learned the previous day of the outrageous parking rates in Cambridge, I realized it was in my best interest to hang out some more, visiting various bookstores and the Peabody Museum.  On my way out of town, I stopped out of curiosity at the Seven Stars bookstore, only to find perhaps the best store for books on the Western mystery traditions in this country.  I walked out with a few items to fill out my collection, including Kenneth Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time, which will give readers some idea of the place’s comprehensiveness.  I then returned to Providence, and my memory fails me as to what occurred that night.

Friday, we all headed out for the North Shore, in order to investigate the places that might have inspired Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”  We headed north and then worked our way south, beginning with a lengthy stopover in Newburyport, and then heading south through Ipswich, Rowley, Essex, Rockport, and Gloucester, with a lengthy detour at the latter to visit the rock formation, Mother Ann, which served as the inspiration for “The Strange High House in the Mist,” despite the lack of mist and the fact that it was neither high nor house-bearing:


We made our way back, stopping in Manchester for groceries and a bookstore, and in Salem for Italian food and a nighttime ramble through the Charter Street Burial Ground and past the house that inspired “The Unnameable.”

Saturday, we had had enough of jetting about, so we played games for most of the day.  We couldn’t sort out A Study in Emerald in time, but we did play Elder Signs and quite a bit of Rock Band.  That evening, we headed downtown to visit the Providence Public Library’s Lovecraft Readathon, after which we headed over for Indian food at Waterfire, which was spectacular as always.

WaterFire Providence

After that, we came back to receive a crushing defeat in the game Witch of Salem, in which you must fight back the forces of darkness while assisting Bob, the Witch of Salem.  The game is much like Arkham Horror in that you’re trying to close gates, save that you are unable to communicate to the other players whether a gate exists at a location.  I speculated that the Witch of Salem was a drama queen who enforced our silence to enhance his own self-importance.

The next day, we played some Rock Band and I drove home.  It’s always great to see the Louckses, and this trip raised my number of “stories inspired by sites in Providence” by two, so it was all for the best.

Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 10:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Pulaski County Library in Jeopardy

I wanted to give a quick update on my childhood library, the Pulaski County Library.   For ten years, the main branch in Somerset, Kentucky, based in the old post office, was the place I gained a love for science fiction, horror, and the paranormal.   It was in its stacks that I was introduced to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Andre Norton, Basil Copper, Daniel Cohen, and many other wonderful authors.  In addition, its interlibrary loan service was the starting point for many of the sources used in The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia.

Now that library, and its sister systems, are in trouble.  They just built a new building, and some people on the fiscal court decided that they didn’t like that the taxes set by the library board had been increased.  When I say “increased,” I mean that someone with a $100,000 property had to pay $4 more than they did three years ago.  So, the fiscal court took the step of circulating a petition to dissolve the library board that sets the tax, because we wouldn’t want to overreact, right?

Ah, but the state of Kentucky says that if you shut down the library board, you shut down the library.  And the workers are all laid off.  And everyone has to keep paying the taxes to pay off the debt for the new building.  And you can’t open another library until all the debts are paid.   Which will be several years, at least.

These minor caveats seem not to have been mentioned in the petition.

You can find out more about this whole mess here.  To be clear, the opposition position can be summed up as, “Um, we didn’t know we’d shut down the library, but the process demands we do it anyway.  Also, oversight?”

So it’s not really clear what the solution to this mess is, aside from mine, which involves a cross-country roadtrip, the location of the signed petitions, and a can of gasoline.  If you care about libraries, please let people know what’s going on, so that news will reach someone with knowledge of Kentucky petition law or a personal army.

Published in: on November 10, 2012 at 9:16 am  Comments (1)  

I’m on Twitter

At the suggestion of Matt Staggs of the Disinfo podcast, I’m now on Twitter.  You can follow me at @DanielHarms1.

I’ll use the blog for longer announcements, but it should work in conjunction with my Facebook and Twitter accounts to make the Dan Harms Machine an unstoppable media juggernaut.  Or not.

The Spirit Birto and Tales of the Horrible

I promised you an additional discovery regarding the spirit Birto, so here it is.

But first, librarians pick up reputations for being picky, but there’s often a good reason for this attitude.  A key example here is Tales of the Horrible, or The Book of Spirits, written by “The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century.”   The latter was the title of an 1825 work written by Robert Cross Smith, better known as Raphael.  Some cataloguer years ago, unfortunately, decided that “Astrologer” should be “Astronomer,” thereby obscuring the book’s potential author.  Smith died in 1832, five years before the book was published, which raises the question of whether this was his work published posthumously, or one or another of the legitimate and illegitimate Raphaels who took up the pen in his wake.

I’d love to say that Tales of the Horrible was an undiscovered gem in the realm of the weird, but it is rather unimaginative and twee. We have accounts of Byron in heaven, a Muslim princess who uses black magic against a Christian knight, a horoscope of Carl von Weber, and other such items.  Having read as much of it as I can stomach, it has become apparent that the “horrible” should refer to the writing itself.  Nonetheless, one piece – “The Necromancers, and their Prediction” – deserves closer examination.

The action is set at Cooke’s Folly of Clifton, near Bristol.  This tower was supposedly the work of a local gentleman who wished to know the fate of his newborn son.   Visiting a local necromancer, he peered into a book and found “The Invocation of the Spirit Birto”:

Proceed, in the darkness of night, in the wane of the moon, and on the eve of All-hallows to consecrate thy commencement.  Let thy materials be made when Saturn ascends in the twelfth house, the mansion of sorrow…

The man eventually convinces the wizard to summon Birto.  After grotesque invocations and a plague of zombies, Birto appears as a knight with black armor, bearing a scroll to proclaim the doom of the young man.

Overall, this seems to have been a local legend spruced up with some trappings of ceremonial magic.  Curiously, the invocation of Birto as shown in the book seems to be almost entirely different from that in the magical literature.  When we reflect that the original Raphael owned the Folger manuscript himself, we are left to wonder if this might not be an attempt at misdirection on the part of the author.  It’s likely we  will never know.

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Back to the Folger Again. But, Um, Different.

So late last week I headed up to the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC once again for another look at the manuscript on which Joe Peterson, Phil Legard and I are working.   I drove down Thursday to Maryland.  Graeme Price, known best for his Delta Green articles describing the autopsies of various horrible monsters, was my host and did an excellent job of cooking with nary a piece of alien in sight, unless garlic is extraterrestrial in origin.

The Folger was as beautiful as always, and I started to compare the manuscript with the transcription.  Key on my agenda was examining the edges of the manuscript.  If you’ve had a look at the online version, you’ll see that sometimes the characters around the edges are gone.  Some of this is due to wear, but in other cases either the binding or the tape around the edges obscures the writing.  Peering into the binding and using a backlight for particular pages (after an abortive effort to use my iPod for the same purpose) turned up a good bit of the missing text.

I also had a look at a fairy summoning manuscript that Skinner and Rankine mentioned in one of their books (I forget which one at the moment).  After spending some time with the crumpled, stained, faded sheet of vellum, I gave it up as a lost cause.  Nonetheless, at least some interested party has had a look at it now.

I’ll give some more details on the more entertaining parts of the trip later.

Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm  Comments (2)