Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 4

Over the past three installments, (part 1, part 2, part 3), we’ve discussed all the different aspects of the Golden Hoard edition of the Sibly Clavis. Now would I recommend it, especially with the Weiser Peterson-edited edition also released that might ? That’s an excellent question, especially as the retail price for both works is comparable.

Once again, I’ll reiterate my point about the binding – I hope the examples I’ve seen are anomalies. Beyond that…

Completists: You’re going to buy both anyway.

People interested in exploring the Key of Solomon tradition: It depends on what aspects you’re interested in, I suppose. Both of them are nineteenth-century examples created for a collector’s market, so you’re not going to get into any antecedents of the tradition. If you really want to examine all of the different aspects of the Key, you should have both texts – and both introductions – handy.

People interested in art and magic: Definitely the Golden Hoard edition.

People who want a greater amount of magical material: Golden Hoard again.

People interested in reading about nineteenth-century occultism: Both, as one may cover the gaps in the other.

People interested in magical diagrams: It may surprise you, but sometimes people interested in practicing magic read this blog. For those interested in practical applications, you’ll probably want the Weiser edition, with its easier-to-draw illustrations.

If you fall into multiple categories, I think you’ll have to make a choice. Or purchase both.

I hope this has helped. I’ve got a few other grimoires to write about, but my read of the Picatrix is going slowly at the moment. I think I may dip into The Key of Necromancy from Enodia Press next.

 

 

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Published in: on April 24, 2019 at 7:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 3

In our last installment, I promised some thoughts on the Clavis’ introduction. Let’s begin with some personal observations.

Skinner and Clark note regarding The Book of Oberon that “[t]he name change from ‘Oberion’ to ‘Oberon” was a bit of artistic license by the publishers in an effort to make a Shakespearean connection.” (p. 304) This was actually a bit of literary sleight of hand on my part in order to make it clear that the book did include as a major draw rituals calling upon a spirit who was identified therein as the King of the Fairies and had a name very similar to Oberon. I wouldn’t have made the same call in other manuscripts including Oberion, in which his ties to the fairy realm are much more tenuous, as I’ve learned since. Plus, if I’d called it The Book of Oberion, I’d be getting constant messages from people on the Internet asking if it was a typo.

With regard to the list of Clavis manuscripts in both Peterson and Skinner and Clark, I should note that Skinner and Clark omit a manuscript included in Peterson that I eventually tracked down. Of course, I haven’t talked about that and they couldn’t have known that, but it does illustrate that a researcher into these manuscripts will want to have both works on hand for consultation.

Both of the above should not be held against the book, as the authors do not have access to my mind. What troubles me more some egregious errors perpetrated in the introduction. For example, Skinner and Clark discuss the Society of Esoteric Endeavour edition of the Clavis, the original of which bears the date 1868:

On this we are in agreement with Ben Fernee… who also believes this manuscript was more than likely commissioned by Denley… (p. 322)

I can’t speak for Ben, but Denley passed away in 1842, twenty-six years before the date the manuscript was copied.

Elsewhere, the introduction states that Abraham Yahuda’s Clavis, the gorgeous one reproduced within, “may have even been part of the Isaac Newton auction. We can only speculate at this time, but Newton’s manuscripts did contain texts on alchemy, so why not one on magic?” (p. 325) It’s not clear whether the implication is that Newton might have owned a manuscript transcribed approximately a century after his death; I certainly hope this refers to the collection.

We have another oddity in the discussion of the manuscript’s English sources. As readers may know, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) was re-released in 1665, well after his death, with additional magical procedures added by the publisher. Skinner and Clark provide a list of five items from that book, ending with the statement that “Scot would have been appalled.” Without any unholy necromancy, I can say that he definitely would not – everything on that list also appears in the 1584 edition.

I also find the material on Sibly to be problematic, based upon Susan Mitchell Sommers’ expensive but excellent work, The Siblys of London: A Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian Britain. Skinner and Clark do use it considerably, but sometimes particular points are elided over. For instance, Skinner and Clark mention how Sibly “adroitly and profitably used his knowledge of Masonic careers to further the career of a local politician” in Ipswich (p. 338). What is not stated is that Sibly started a Masonic charitable institution and absconded from town with the collected funds intended for the destitute. To me, this is a key point in Sibly’s life necessary for the assessment of his character.

A more troubling omission from the Clavis is Sommers’ take on Sibly as an author. Skinner and Clark state that the preface is “probably originally written by Sibley” (p. 281), that the translation of the Clavis “was done (or caused to be done) by Ebenezer Sibley” (p. 309), and the footnotes later in the transcript are often ascribed to him (e.g., pp. 400-1). Yet how much credit can we give Sibly for this book? Sommers provides the following important context:

A page-by-page analysis of the fourth part of An Illustration, as well as of two of his longer works, the 783-page Culpeper’s British Physician with its attached The Medical Part, and the nearly 400-page A Key to Physic suggests Sibly was actually the author of only a fraction of those 4,000 pages, perhaps as little [sic] 10 or 20 percent. Further, much of what is clearly original composition is transitional material, included to join more substantial borrowed sections. (p. 157)

So, let’s put some caveats on this. All of us acknowledge that Sibly did not write the Clavis – and neither did Solomon – and the material included in these manuscripts is clearly a compilation. We can’t really give him too hard a time for reprinting Culpepper, so perhaps that should be removed from Sommers’ assessment above. Still, Sommers found Ebenezer’s borrowing so pervasive that she dedicates an entire chapter of her work to just that topic.

I’d like to tie this together with my previous concerns about “Doctor Rudd.” To be clear, I see nothing inherently wrong with assuming Sibly had this Clavis translated and compiled, or that “Doctor Rudd” really did come up with the magical system in the Goetia appearing under his name. What is problematic is that work clearly taken from other sources appears under both author’s names, and that proponents of Rudd and Sibly rarely engage with such evidence when asserting their positions. Let’s talk about the borrowing in these cases, and then give reasons for or against whether it happened in the other material for which these authors take credit.

Next time – my recommendations.

Next time – my recommendations.

Published in: on April 13, 2019 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Forthcoming from PSU Press – Making Magic in Elizabethan England and The Long Life of Magical Objects

PSU Press has updated its website with the descriptions of two books, still not apparently available for pre-order or with release dates other than “2019.” First, there’s Frank Klaassen’s edition of two magical texts in Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic:

This volume presents editions of two fascinating anonymous and untitled manuscripts of magic produced in Elizabethan England: The Antiphoner Notebook and the Boxgrove Manual. Frank Klassen uses these texts, which he argues are representative of the overwhelming majority of magical practitioners, to explain how magic changed during this period and how those changes were crucial to the formation of modern magic.

The Boxgrove Manual is a work of learned ritual magic that synthesizes material from Henry Cornelius Agrippa, the Fourth Book of Occult PhilosophyHeptameron, and various medieval conjuring works. The Antiphoner Notebook concerns the common magic of treasure hunting, healing, and protection, blending medieval conjuring and charm literature with materials drawn from Reginald Scot’s famous anti-magic work, Discoverie of Witchcraft. Klaassen painstakingly traces how the scribes who created these two manuscripts adapted and transformed their original sources. In so doing, he demonstrates the varied and subtle ways in which the Renaissance, the Reformation, new currents in science, the birth of printing, and vernacularization changed the practice of magic.

It also notes that the book includes 66 black and white illustrations.

One that seems to be further along toward publication is Allegra Iafrate’s The Long Life of Magical Objects: A Study in the Solomonic Tradition:

Each chapter constitutes a case study that focuses on a different Solomonic object: a ring used to control demons; a mysterious set of bottles that constrain evil forces; an endless knot or seal with similar properties; the shamir, known for its supernatural ability to cut through stone; and a flying carpet that can bring the sitter anywhere he desires. Taken together, these chapters constitute a study on the reception of the figure of Solomon, but viewed from a different angle, they are a collection of cultural biographies on the impact of magical objects and their inherent aesthetic, morphological, and technical qualities.

I do note with dismay that the hardcover cost will be $94.95, which appears to be a substantial increase over the other volumes in the series.

On a more positive note, it also appears that many of the books in the PSU History of Magic series have been re-released in inexpensive paperbacks. If one or another has seemed to be outside your price range, it might be time to check back.

Published in: on April 5, 2019 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 2

Last time, we looked at the physical design and illustrations of the new Golden Hoard Clavis, in comparison with other publications of Clavis materials likely originating in John Denley’s shop. Next, we should cover the content, looking mainly at the Golden Hoard edition in comparison to Joseph Peterson’s Weiser edition.

The two books start out in quite a similar fashion. Following the prefaces, we have complete editions of the Clavis, with full instructions on how to consecrate planetary talismans with planetary timing, tools, circles, and incantations. Next come descriptions and illustrations of talismans for each of the seven planets, as well as spiritual experiments to summon Birto, Vassago, Agares, and Bealpharos. The Wheel of Wisdom is a chart of planetary correspondences, and both volumes add thereafter a copy of A Secret and Complete Book of Magic Science, a book that Hockley seems to have claimed credit for creating.

At this point, the manuscript reproduced in the Weiser edition ends, but the Golden Hoard version continues. We have a treatise on crystallomancy, which should be familiar to readers of The Rosicrucian Seer. We have two compilations of miscellaneous magical procedures, including the ever-popular raising of the spirit Oberion. This material often reflects what’s in the Experimentum – although it doesn’t cover everything therein. It certainly doesn’t follow the same order as the Experimentum, and we also see additional material, such as elaborate love talismans and a procedure to make a magical bell, added. It also adds a treatise on geomancy, probably taken from Heydon’s Theomagia, and some magical tables showing the correspondences of the numbers one through eight. The table for number nine is drawn but blank, raising some interesting questions as to the creation process for this book.

I hesitate to call this a more “complete” Clavis, as this implies a thematic unity which I think is not present here, but Skinner and Clark’s book contains a wonderful selection of occult treatises from material. If you regularly buy Teitan and Caduceus Books, much of it will be known to you already, but it still has items you won’t see elsewhere. If you aren’t in that position, this will catch you up on most of it.

Following this is the introduction, which is placed after the text for reasons that remain unclear to me. Skinner and Clark provide us with a commentary on each section of the manuscript. Next to be covered are brief notes on the French and English sources for the document, and then a more-or-less thorough list of the manuscripts discovered from the tradition.  This follows the same order as Peterson provides in the introduction to the Weiser edition, making it easy to see where further research has revealed more information on the same works. Biographies of Sibley, Denley, Robert Cross Smith (the first “Raphael”), Hockley, F. G. Irwin, and Robert Thomas Cross round it out.

I have several comments on this section, which will follow in my next installment.

 

Published in: on April 4, 2019 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 1

(Before I begin, it’s important to note a potential slight conflict of interest. I have tried from time to time to get one of the beautiful Sibly Claves – the one at the Senate House Library, from which my Experimentum was extracted – published. It’s never gotten beyond the “hey, I think this would be neat” phase with any publishers, but I’ll let readers decide whether this is important as the review progresses.)

Golden Hoard has just released its latest work, The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic. The work is a reproduction of the National Library of Israel’s MS Yah. Var. 18, an early nineteenth-century Key of Solomon and product of the manuscript workshop of London bookseller John Denley. Previous editions, reproducing manuscripts from private collections, have been issued, one from Ben Fernee’s Caduceus Books, and the other from Weiser edited by Joseph Peterson. I’ve also published a segment of one of the more elaborate ones as the Experimentum.

In this review, I’ll be talking about what makes the Peterson and Golden Hoard editions different, and give an assessment of each. (I’ll set aside the Caduceus Books, as they are long out of print.)

First, though, we need to talk about the binding.

Josiah Bacon mentioned in the comments that his copy came with serious damage to the binding. Sadly, mine did as well, with the book block tearing away from the cover even before I opened the package. I was able to replace it through Amazon with a copy that is holding up better. I also looked at a copy at Enchantments in NYC that was in good shape. My recommendation is to check any copy before you purchase it in a store, or order from sellers who have clear return and replacement policies.

(Also, to be clear, my copy has the standard binding, and not the special leather-bound editions that are sold directly from Golden Hoard, which I have not seen.)

As for the art… this is a stunning book. The previous Keys published are visually impressive but still workmanlike, with the emphasis being on penmanship and accuracy. What the Golden Hoard edition presents instead is what must have been the deluxe version, with copious use of multicolored inks, elaborate illustrations to the point of gaudiness, and pages upon pages of additional content. We have two such manuscripts so far, the one at the National LIbrary of Israel and another in the Harry Price collection of the Senate House Library (the basis of the Experimentum).

I’m going to be reproducing (badly) some illustrations from different editions, to give you a better idea of what to look for. First, let’s look at “The Magic Ring” in the Weiser edition:

 

Weiser The Magic Ring Diagram

Here’s the same diagram in the Golden Hoard:

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Let’s look at the pentacle (actually a repurposed magic circle) for Friday, first from Weiser:

IMG_7215

Now from the Golden Hoard edition:

IMG_7216

You’ll note that the illustrations in the latter obscure the origin of the piece in a standard Heptameron-style magical circle, and that it is incorrectly labeled as being the seal from Thursday there. Thus, occasional inaccuracies worked into the deluxe edition.

How does this compare to the Senate House version – at least to what’s published in the Experimentum? Let’s take a look. Here’s the Knot of Hercules from Caduceus:

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And now from Golden Hoard:

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Yah. Var. 18 does appear to be in better condition, as you can see. Also, it’s not clear as to whether one of these is more “accurate” than the other, although the one from Experimentum does appear somewhat more like a traditional magical diagram.

Next time, we talk about the manuscript’s content.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

New Books by Me!

I’ve heard that some authors actually use their blogs to promote their own books, instead of posting reviews and discussions of other people’s writing and occasional grouchy rants. Let’s try it out!Harms Angels Demons Spirits Cover

First, I somehow believed I’d posted about Of Angels, Demons, & Spirits, my edition of a 17th century book of magic from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, richly illustrated with magical diagrams, talismans, and other goodies redrawn from the original by James Clark. It also includes numerous footnotes, a historical introduction to Thomas Allen, notes on magic in the seventeenth century, and a brief description of the cosmology of spirits in the grimoires.

cover-blue-front

Also, I’ve just released a new slim book, Balloonists, Alchemists, and Astrologers of the Nineteenth Century: The Tale of George and Margaret Graham. I found I had a short work on the Grahams with no corresponding longer piece, so I worked with my friend Casey Hickey to turn it into a book worthy of the name. It’s got balloon accidents, secret societies, balloon accidents, ritual magic, appearances by Raphael and Hockley, and more balloon accidents! You can buy it now in paperback – it’s available through KDP, and it should be available in most Amazon markets.

Published in: on March 14, 2019 at 9:55 pm  Comments (2)  

Dan Reviews The Testament of Solomon – Recension C

Testament+of+Solomon+HBOver a decade ago, when I was doing more non-paid writing, I posted an entire series on the Testament of Solomon, breaking down different aspects of that famous work on demonology and spirit summoning approximately from the fourth century. I knew there were copies from later periods that included more magical material, but I lacked both access to them and the means to read the Greek. Now, Hadean Press has filled that gap with its edition of the Testament of Solomon: Recension C, in which Brian Johnson translates and contextualizes this particular manuscript sub-tradition.

What follows is based on a hardback review copy. It’s a handsome book, and it’s a shame there aren’t more – but you can still pick up a paperback edition.

For such a slim volume, there’s a great deal of material packed within. After David Rankine’s foreword, Johnson dives into the significance of the manuscript, the translation, and its context within Byzantine magic. This will likely be complex for people who are not already familiar with the Testament, but those who have a basic level of knowledge will find this material illuminating and helpful, as it sets this particular tradition in the broader context of the Testament while delving into what sets it apart.

Following this is the translation itself, taken from McCown’s edition of the Testament and supplemented with reference from Harley MS 5596, from the British Library, and Parisinus Graec. MS 2419, from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Johnson omits the material that’s appeared in other editions, such as that of Duling or those available online, in favor of concentrating on the text unique to this particular tradition. The Greek text does not appear with this; interested individuals are referred to the link above.

The centerpiece of that material is a lengthy spirit list, with fifty-two entries, similar to those you might be familiar with from the Goetia and the Book of Oberon. Each one is given the number of other spirits they control, their function, and their seals from both of the manuscripts. Given the interest in these lists, I think many readers will be keen on getting to these. On the other hand, they might be slightly disappointed that these lists don’t match up well with those from other sources – and that the sigils don’t even agree between the two manuscripts. All of these are annotated with detailed footnotes on the translation and the origin of various elements of the composite text.

The work concludes with representations of the Seals of Solomon and a brief note on the spirit Belet. The work has a bibliography, but no index.

I enjoyed this work. I think it would have been possible to scale up with the Greek text, the remainder of the Testament, or other elements, but the decision not to makes the work available sooner to readers in an affordable format. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Greek or Byzantine magic, or in spirit lists, and the low cost means it will be welcome to many readers interested in ritual magic from antiquity to the early modern period.

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Forthcoming Iranian and Indian Grimoire Publications from Matthew Melvin-Koushki

Academia alerted me to the article “How to Rule the World: Occult-Scientific Manuals of the Early Modern Persian Cosmopolis” by Matthew Melvin-Koushki of the University of South Carolina.

I’ve just finished it, and I was disappointed to be no closer to ruling the world. Nonetheless, it’s a great piece that outlines the status and reputation of Arabic and Persian magical texts in the Islamic world, in which authors composed them for rulers as a means to hold dominion over all things, as opposed to Western Christianity’s frequent marginalization of similar texts.

I see a few troublesome statements within, such as the following:

The great majority of manuals produced by the Renaissance grimoire industry, Catholic and Protestant alike, perished on the inquisitorial pyre—along with many of their authors and readers; much of our knowledge of Latin Christian magic comes rather from the many manuals written to counter it…

Both of these statements are correct, but the latter has more to do with the failure of past scholars to engage with the still-substantial library of texts that did survive, instead examining the “manuals” written by more “reputable” authors. Nonetheless, it’s worth reading, and here’s my favorite line:

To help combat the blatantly colonialist-Orientalist double standard that still cripples early modern Western intellectual history—whereby printed Latin grimoires like Agrippa’s patently merit much study, but their equally or more influential unprinted Persian cognates precisely none—I have identified, and am editing and translating, a number of pivotal occult-scientific manuals produced in Timurid–Aq Qoyunlu–Safavid Iran and Mughal India that testify to this cultural sea-change.

It gives me an odd feeling – as if I and a bunch of other people are simultaneous being called out and offered a whole bunch of awesome stuff.

The first effort in this regard will be his book The Occult Science of Empire in Aqquyunlu-Safavid Iran, which will print the first translations of A Spiritual Boon by Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī and The Choicest Talismans by Maḥmūd Dihdār, two books that before this moment you didn’t know you wanted. You might be sad to hear that they’ll be coming out from Brill, as that means they’ll be quite expensive, but we’ll get a better sense whenever it shows up on their upcoming releases. At any rate, it’s something to look forward to.

Published in: on February 25, 2019 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Dan Reviews Conjuring the Planetary Intelligences edited by David Rankine

After dealing with the vagaries of transatlantic postage, I’ve received a paper review copy of Hadean Press’s Conjuring the Planetary Intelligences: A Series of Conjurations found in Sloane 3821, edited by David Rankine. It’s also available in ebook format, for those who prefer that.

The book is a nice little publication, dedicated to providing a short series of experiments intended for summoning the spirits of each of the seven planets. For each, we have a seal, some notes on the purposes to which each spirit should be put, and a lengthy invocation to call the spirit to do the magician’s bidding. The text within has had spelling modernized and abbreviations expanded, while maintaining the original capitalization and punctuation.

The appendices include the appearances of planetary spirits taken from the Fourth Book and the kameas, or magical squares, for each planet. I’m not sure what motivated the inclusion of this material and not other planetary magical elements from Agrippa and pseudo-Agrippa (such as the various spirits, the circles to be used, or the seals derived from the kameas), but it’s not that crucial and all of it is readily available.

It’s always good to see another magical work appear in print, and this one will be of interest to collectors and those focusing on early modern ideas about planetary spirits, whether scholarly or pragmatically. Given the expense of shipping, I would suggest either the e-book or buying several of Hadean Press’ offerings at once.

Published in: on February 23, 2019 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Dan Reviews The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, found himself in a difficult situation. Swedish forces had captured and imprisoned his brother, the Archduke Maximilian. His freedom must be obtained at any cost. What he needed was an agent – a man of intelligence and skill, a master of secrets and covert action, perhaps even one who dabbled in the arts of magic. The emperor knew exactly the man for the job.

At this point, my readership is probably assuming that he sent for John Dee. In fact, it was Abraham Colorni, a Jewish polymath from Mantua whose biography forms a crucial part of Harvard lecturer Daniel Jütte’s work The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800.

As some of you may recall, Dee spent a great deal of effort trying to get an audience with the emperor, only to harangue him about his need to repent. As for Colorni, the emperor invited him to travel from Italy to Prague and set up a special meeting with him after a few weeks. Colorni spent three hours talking to the emperor about topics ranging from arquebuses to gambling, and never got around to mentioning the rescue of his brother.  The ambassador from Ferrara was appalled – and Colorni ended up with the emperor as his patron for the next nine years, as the archduke’s return was negotiated through diplomatic channels.

The overall focus of Jütte’s work is on the role of Jews in the “economy of secrets.” Today secrecy is usually viewed negatively, but at the time the possession and judicious revelation of secrets could bring an individual fame and fortune. Christian prejudice often endangered local Jewish populations and barred them from entry into particular professions, training, and status. Yet this prejudice came with a respect for the Jewish people as masters of secrets in many different realms, ranging from the economic to the technological to the magical. Particular Jews who were knowledgeable and savvy could combine this with training and talent to maneuver themselves into positions of authority and influence in the broader society – although a high profile brought danger due to both intrigue and anti-Semitism.

The Age of Secrecy does not dwell on any particular topic of Jewish expertise in depth, but instead it touches on their activity in a wide variety of fields – technology, espionage, alchemy, magic, etc. – that shows wide-ranging and impressive accomplishments in a world in which the dominant culture treated them with hate and mistrust. All of these are illustrated with enjoyable anecdotes gleaned from the work of other scholars and archival research.  My favorite was learning about Isaac Sanguineti, who repeatedly had run-ins with the Inquisition, as summoning Lilith was said to be his personal specialty.

Half of the book is about Abraham Colorni. If that names seems familiar, it’s due to his commission from the Duke of Mantua to translate the Clavicula Salomonis, or Key of Solomon, into Italian. We don’t get too many specifics on how this came about, but apparently Colorni was able to turn this to his advantage. By attaching himself to the reputation of Solomon, he was able to expand his own reputation and influence. For example, Jütte thinks it likely that the Key‘s magic to free prisoners might have directly led to the Emperor’s initial audience with Colorni. I’m pressed for time here, so I need to cut this off – which, for those who read the book, is a serious injustice to all of Colorni’s skills, ranging from engineering to prestidigitation to arms manufacturing.

The book ends with an emphasis on two key points. First, when considering the advances of human learning, we should look to the economy of secrets as well as to the universities and societies that emphasized openness of information while excluding key groups of individuals from their membership. Second, that the importance of research into Jewish intellectuals and inventors in Europe should not cause us to set aside their frequent explorations into magic, alchemy, and other topics still considered less reputable that they pursued alongside other areas of expertise.

In short, this is a great book, and you can probably find it for 75% off the cover price. If you’re interested in the history of magic in early modern Europe, or just want to learn more about how the Key of Solomon came down to us, this is a must.

 

Published in: on February 12, 2019 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment