The Newberry Library’s Book of Magical Charms: A Transcription Opportunity

Could you decipher the text of an early modern magical manuscript?  You have your chance at the website of Chicago’s Newberry Library, which has posted a seventeenth-century work with various sorts of spells and remedies.  Each page has a window at the bottom where you can attempt a transcription or translation, as part of an effort at a crowdsourced translation.  I’m not sure what the result will be, but I’ve already contributed one page, and I hope to add more.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 2:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Review: Petit Albert, Ouroboros Press Edition

Ouroboros Press has released its latest work, an English language translation of the Petit Albert, the famous French grimoire and book of remedies.  As with many other Ouroboros releases, this has been put out as a small book, attractively bound in black.

As it happens, another English-language translation of this work appeared not so long ago, Hadean Press’s unfortunately-named The Spellbook of Marie Laveau, which I’ve already reviewed.  The same comments as I’ve given there may apply to the overall value of an English translation of the book.  Yet how do the two measure up?

The Ouroboros Press edition does not have much beyond a short introduction, and the Hadean Press edition does the same.  Neither work possesses an index or an extensive critical apparatus.  A question might be asked, then, as to the quality of the two.  I would not consider myself an expert at either French or translation, but I have made a few notes, based on some dictionary work, on some matters I find to be interesting.

Let’s take the formula for the Hand of Glory.   The 1752 French text from Google Books gives the ingredients to be placed with the hand as “du zimat, du salpêtre , du sel & du poivre long.”  The Ouroboros edition translates this as “vinegar, saltpeter, salt, and black pepper,” the Hadean as “some green vitriol, saltpeter, salt, and long pepper.” I can’t find “zimat,” but it does appear that “poivre long” is long pepper, which is different from black pepper.

What else? We have an experiment to make a “bâton” for travelers.  Hadean has “staff,” and Ouroboros has “stick.” (Both are technically correct, but I prefer the first.)  The elder wood for this must be picked “le lendemain de la Toussaints,” which Ouroboros renders as “the day after Halloween” and Hadean as “the day after All Saints’ Day,” which is  correct.  On the other hand, if you want the magic stones that help you to tame a horse, you’ll need to go to Mount “Sénis.” The Ouroboros edition turns this into “Cenis,” a mountain in France near the Italian border, while the Hadean transforms this into “Säntis,” a prominence in northeast Switzerland.

I’d be very interested to hear what people more proficient with French, especially those who have read more of the book than what I have examined, would have to say about these works.

Which one should you get?  It depends.  If price is a concern, the Hadean Press edition is half the price of the Ouroboros.  If you’d like a well-bound book, the Ouroboros edition is probably the best for your money.  Either one will provide an interesting collection of remedies and folk magic that should enrich anyone’s knowledge of folk magic.

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  Leave a Comment  

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 (2)  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 1

As promised – comments on the high price of occult books!

Let’s set some ground rules here.  I am not a publisher, and I don’t have any deep insight into sales figures, distribution, or any of those other topics.  I’m an author who has written and had published a few occult books and articles for occult books, published at different price points, from several publishers.  I’m also a reader of occult works who both appreciates a good book, and who has a limited budget for them – probably less limited than many readers, I think, but there are limits.  I’d like to discuss the prices from those two perspectives.

First, let’s acknowledge that there are some elements that are necessary in a book, based upon the nature of the material.  These might include the following:

Illustrations:  If you’ve got a document with a lot of diagrams or symbols, a good illustrator can be essential.  As I’m writing this, Eldred Wormwood just sent me a link to this nice review of Oberon.  I asked him to make one correction – adding James Clark’s name to the credits.  James was absolutely indispensable to Oberon, and we might not have been able to publish without his involvement.   Good illustrators are important, and they cost money.

Permissions:  I’ve worked with a number of different libraries over the years.  When it comes to manuscripts and the like, the permissions for publishing a transcribed text have been cheap as free.  Most librarians seem happy that people are making use of the collections and giving them exposure.  This is not always the case, however, especially when it comes to…

Photographs:  This is where dealing with manuscripts from institutions can become really expensive.  There’s a reason why you don’t see any sort of reproductions of Folger V.b.26 in Oberon – it’s simply too expensive to reproduce illustrations, let alone full-color ones, let alone if you want to use one for a cover, let alone reproducing a book entirely in color.  The same was true for the Experimentum and other Caduceus works – full-color reproductions can really drive the price of a work up.  But they can often be necessary.  I purchased the special edition of the Veritable Key, having it shipped all the way from Malaysia (I think) because I wanted the talismans in full color.

If the book is from a private collection, that might be a different story.  I haven’t tried to get such a work published, but I know they’ve been a staple of Teitan Press.  There’s probably a good outlay in terms of photographic equipment and image enhancing software.

Translations:  Professional translation is quite expensive.  Once again, Oberon wouldn’t have happened without Joe’s kind offer to make the translations.  The same is true of e Mus. 173, on which I’m working on the Latin translations myself.  These are tough tasks, even if you’ve been studying the language for years, even if you can read the handwriting or script, even if you have familiarity with this sort of text.

Binding:  This is one item on which I’m ambivalent.  I do love a beautiful book, but I also know that high-class bindings can drive up the price substantially.  I also know there are often talismanic aspects to such works that are important to the publishers and purchasers.

Spiritual Requirements that Someone Spend Vast Amounts of Money on a Book as a Test of Their Faith:  Yeah.  I suppose some people believe that.

(Bobby D. has pointed out to me that “market” is a key factor.  He’s right; I just haven’t had time to deal with it here.  I’ll talk about it in a future post.)

Yet are there overpriced books out there?  Next time, I give some examples.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 12, 2017 at 11:32 am  Comments (4)  

Just Released – Peterson’s True Black Magic

I used to think that comics books for Batman and Wolverine were ridiculous. Not for the premises, which I was willing to accept, but that they were in half a dozen books having completely different adventures all at once.  How could that be possible?

Joseph Peterson has made me believe in Batman again, with his indefatigable effort and ability to work on multiple projects at once.  His latest is a long-awaited translation of La Véritable Magie Noire, or True Black Magic, as made famous by Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic.  As with other works condemned by Waite as “Rituals of Black Magic,” it is a variant edition of the Key of Solomon with material no worse than what Mathers excised from his own Key.  The edition is on Amazon, it’s cheap, and I’m enjoying it so far, with a review to follow.  (It’s a purchased copy, and the usual caveats about co-authors apply.)

I hope to post something on the cost of occult books very soon.  Sooner if you pay me.  (I’m kidding.)

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mailbag, February 2017

We’ve got mail from a few past months to answer, and I do apologize for the delay in getting back to people.  That is, unless you’re with the Order of the Hidden Masters, in which case, no apology – but just keep being you.

Lordzick Appenteng Aboagye says:

Please I need your to help, step by step on how to use this book. The Ars Notoria of King Solomon. Kindly help me, I need to use this book.

Here’s the problem, Lordzick.  First, that’s not what this blog is for.  Second, most editions of the text don’t include the all-important illustrations for meditation and prayer.  You might check the Palatino edition for those, and I hope you’ll get this in time for your quadrivium test.

dumbpost13 says:

“Before I discuss my concerns, which are relatively minor, I should extend considerable kudos to Jake for all of this work. This is the sort of in-depth examination that desperately needed to be done, in order to start charting out more of the history of magic, and that requires considerable patience and access to texts to carry out. ” Rather sad when you think about it.

That it is, indeed.

I should give one mitigating piece of information.  According to his CV, Jean-Patrice Boudet is working on a book entitled Les catalogues de démons attribués à Salomon et à saint Cyprien, to be released by the SISMEL publishers of Florence.  (SISMEL has also released scholarly editions of the Almadel and Ars Notoria, so it deserves the  It hasn’t appeared yet, as far as I can tell.)  It’s not clear when it will appear, as it’s not listed on the publisher’s site as of yet.

Allan Grohe says:

I’m not previously-familiar with PSU’s Magic in History series; what books in the series have you found most useful for gaming inspirational research?

PSU’s series is mostly pitched for academics, so I’m cautious about recommending much of the line for gaming research, without having a particular topic in mind.  Two of the more accessible ones are Butler’s Ritual Magic and Ryan’s The Bathhouse at Midnight.  The latter focuses on Russia, but it’s still great enough to receive a general recommendation.  I’m also re-reading Kieckhefer’s Forbidden Rites; the bulk of it is Latin, but the introduction has several translations and much information about medieval ritual magic that makes it worthwhile.

Mattster comments:

Congrats on the inclusion in the MIH series. Hammer’s book sounds really interesting, but $98 for a paperback? I will have to call upon many spirits of prosperity….

I am sorry to hear it.  The high price of books dealing with ritual magic, I think, is a good topic for its own post.

Keep those comments coming!

 

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)  

Review: A Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic

We’ve already discussed the Mexican publisher Enodia Press‘s previous work, their translation of the most famous Faustian grimoire, Magia naturalis et innaturalis (review). Their latest effort, A Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic – a wonderful title – was funded successfully by an Indiegogo campaign, and is now available for purchase.

The Compendium is a lovely little book, with a pretty green cover and embossed seal on the cover. At occasional points, the typesetting is not quite up to snuff.  Nonetheless, this is a huge step forward for Enodia, and it’s clear that they’re learning and adapting to raise the quality of their offerings.

Within, we have seven short, related magical texts translated from different German and Latin language sources.  Each is a brief set of instructions for summoning up spirits, including admonitions to the magician, prayers and invocations – mostly in voces magicae – and seals for the spirits.  These texts are attributed to a number of different figures – Johannes Kornreuther, Joseph Herpentil, Michael Scot, and Gertrude of Nivelles.  The original texts are included in an appendix after the translations, as is a brief comparison of some of the pseudo-Arabic text in the texts attributed to Scot. A brief set of endnotes follows.  The book bears no index, which  makes any efforts to compare elements between the texts more difficult.

I did very much like the introduction, although I think that some additional material from Stephan Bachter’s dissertation and his other works. Based on what I’ve read, it seems that the profusion of these similar manuscripts might have occurred due to a intensive market, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, aimed at providing grimoires for a market of collectors and users. It’s certainly a possibility that I’d like to see explored more.

In short, this is an excellent small collection of short magical texts in a genre – that of Faustian literature – which remains largely untranslated.  I’d suggest that grimoire collectors who can afford such a work pick it up soon, especially if they’re in the US and want to avoid any surprising international tariffs.

 

Published in: on February 6, 2017 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Jake Stratton-Kent’s Pandemonium

Many readers will be familiar with the list of seventy-two spirits that constitutes the Goetia section of the Lesser Key of Solomon.  Some may know of other such lists – published in Johann Weyer’s De praestigiis daemonum, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, the Grimorium Verum, and even in The Book of Oberon itself.  Until now, however, no comprehensive examination of these spirits and how they might relate to each other.  Jake Stratton-Kent’s new book from Hadean Press, Pandemonium: A Discordant Concordance of Diverse Spirit Catalogues, is the first attempt to do so.

The book begins with a new English translation of “Le Livre des Esperitz,” a French treatise held at Cambridge’s Trinity College O.8.29, by Mallorie Vaudoise.  The inclusion of this document, which describes forty-six spirits in a manner similar to the Goetia, makes the book an important resource for anyone interested in these spirit hierarchies.

Jake then moves to an examination of various parts of the spirit hierarchy, first dealing with the trinity of spirits that oversee the rest, the spirits of the seven days of the week, the kings of the four directions, and the multitude of other spirits that follow them.  At the minimum, each of these spirits receives a chart showing their appearances in a number of different sources, their Goetic seal (if any), their illustration in de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal (if any), their description in Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and notes regarding their appearance.  Many of these spirits merit a greater amount of treatment, however, and the author does not disappoint.

Before I discuss my concerns, which are relatively minor, I should extend considerable kudos to Jake for all of this work.  This is the sort of in-depth examination that desperately needed to be done, in order to start charting out more of the history of magic, and that requires considerable patience and access to texts to carry out.  He makes a number of discoveries and raises hypotheses that can be checked as new texts are discovered and compared to this work.  So this is a major step forward when it comes to charting the spirit world of late medieval and early Renaissance magic.

It does bear noting, however, that this book is aimed at practitioners and not scholars, which leads to some choices that favor one group over another. I can’t necessarily fault the book for doing so, but it does bear mentioning.

For instance, the spirit listings, after the initial trinity of rulers, weekly spirits, and four kings, follow the order in Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia daemonum. Nonetheless, the charts list the spirits based upon their appearance in Weyer’s work, but the text quoted in the entries is from Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft.  Then we often have the seal from the Goetia.

From a practitioner’s point of view, it makes sense to put everything together in this way, so all the information about a spirit is in one place.  From a scholarly perspective, it conflates these sources in ways that are not always helpful.  For example, Scot’s text is quite similar to Weyer’s, but there are certainly differences between the two.  (Given how conscientious Jake is, I’m guessing that swapping Scot for Weyer’s work was only done in extremis.)  Further, the inclusion of Goetic seals may give the impression that these are common elements of such spirit lists, when we have examples both with the seals and many without.  If you want to understand what’s in the original manuscripts, this approach elides the differences between them and – ironically – pushes the Goetia into a prominence that the book as a whole seeks to take away from it.

It should also be noted that the spirit lists are not necessarily the only material in ritual magic texts that discusses the names and offices of spirits.  Some are full-fledged rites to summon particular ones, while others are brief notes, sometimes only of names, but at other times giving additional information about purposes or planetary or elemental attributes.  Indeed, a short list of the queen of fairies and the seven fairy sisters occupies a point in The Book of Oberon between two items discussed in the book.  This does not diminish the importance of Jake’s work, but noting it is important in terms of understanding these books in their entirety.

Readers should note that Jake does assume a certain amount of familiarity with a good number of ritual magic texts, most of which have been previously printed.  If you’ve regularly purchased the books I recommend here, for instance, you’ll be well on your way.  I wonder if a few pages devoted to discussing the history and significance of the main texts with which he deals might have made for a book that was accessible to more people.  For example, I had to find the collection and manuscript number for the translated work myself.  Then again, this is not a mass market book by any means, nor should it be expected to be one.

Still, the specialized nature of this work narrows the market of potential buyers.  I can see it of particular interest to those who want to see how various published grimoires fit together in terms of their shared spiritual universe, or practitioners who want to understand the context of their operations.  Both groups should be quite happy with what Pandemonium offers.

 

 

Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 2:49 pm  Comments (2)  

Recent and Upcoming Releases

Looking for something to purchase with your holiday cash?  Already own all of my books?  Here are some other options.

Hell Fire Club Books offers a large number of limited edition works on magic, mostly just outside the usual topic of Papers.  They’ve just released a new facsimile manuscript of a Key of Solomon published by an Edward Hunter, possibly a merchant of Bristol, around 1830.  I’m a sucker for nineteenth-century magical works of an obscure nature, so this is right up my alley.

Troy Books has released a new edition of their Long-Hidden Friend, this one in pocket-sized format, perfect for defending you from violent death.  If you’re interested in such a talismanic work, give this one a shot.

Published in: on December 22, 2016 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment