Life Update, A Chapter on Early Modern Grimoires

Picture of a late fall walk

I’m still alive. I’ve been immersed in revisions to The Book of Four Wizards, along with one or two other projects that have prevented me from getting back to Papers for a while.

One piece of feedback was that I should not rely on Of Angels to describe the late seventeenth-century milieu of our first author. I’m dipping back into the literature and records of that time, which is somewhat scanty, to see if I can learn anything new that I can share with you when the book is published.

I finally tracked down Owen Davies’ chapter “Narratives of the Witch, the Magician, and the Devil in Early Modern Grimoires.” I think it’s a mixed bag, although someone who had less familiarity with grimoire literature would probably find it more valuable. I appreciated his analysis of the Faust tradition and the corresponding late appearance of the written pact in grimoires. (I also wish I’d found out that a couple of witch trial pamphlets are believed to be entirely fictitious before I put them in my witch bottle book! So it goes.)

On the other hand, Davies also mentions that books of magic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries don’t recognize the existence of witches… and as the editor of three such books, I can confirm that they do. They’re never a matter of primary importance, but there’s a good number of them in the British tradition.

The usual games proceed apace. There’s been some talk about a new edition of Pendragon, with design diaries on honor and glory, among other topics. I intend to pick it up, but I haven’t seen anything so compelling that I wish to adopt it wholesale. Perhaps future updates will change my mind.

I also heard that some other roleplaying game is getting a new edition. I hope people enjoy it.

That’s all for now. I’ll get back to the review cycle when I can.

Published in: on January 21, 2022 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Miscellanea, Hadean Press Releases, Joe Peterson Updates, Gaming Rant

Here’s my upcoming scholarly and entertainment reading.

Erzebet at Hadean has shared a few recent publications with me, on the shorter variety. The most notable of these is Al Cummins’ edition of The Art of Cyprian’s Mirror of Four Kings, a scrying ritual taken from British Library Sloane 3850. It’s a solid, brief edition of a text combining a few different topics with which modern readers are interested, along with potential notes for practitioners.

The other two, Fr. Robert Nixon’s original translations of Latin texts, may also be worth checking out. One is Brontomantia, a selection from the Venerable Bede’s works dealing with divination by thunder. (Hint: it usually means a lot of people are going to die.) The other is The Wizard Popes of the 11th Century, which expands on the stories of Pope Sylvester II being a magician to allege that other popes among his associates did the same. Both of them are short pieces that present work that has not, to my knowledge, been presented anywhere else.

Among the recent additions to Joseph Peterson’s Esoteric Archives are a lengthy update to his online edition of the Armadel, including many new manuscript links, and an unnoted revision of the page discussing Johann Weyer’s “Pseudomonarchia Daemonum.”

The Black Letter Press edition of pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book will be my next review topic.

There’s a new lawsuit from a Gygax family member’s “TSR” against Wizards of the Coast – or there was, until they decided to suspend it because they filed it in the wrong venue or other reasons. I’ve written for RPGs and read a great deal of older material for my recent five-year Rules Cyclopedia campaign, so I have thoughts.

RPGs are a form of media, and even good media often contains ideas, preconceptions, and stereotypes that don’t age particularly well. For my part, I know that I tried to take a sympathetic and understanding approach toward other cultures, when writing for Call of Cthulhu back in the day. Still, if someone wanted to re-publish any of it, I’d want to look it over again, as I’ve learned more about the world – especially, that listening to people portrayed in a text is important.

Wizards has been slowly placing half a century’s publications for older D&D settings on Drivethrurpg and DM’s Guild, much of it inaccessible for decades. I have greatly enjoyed these publications, but having read a great deal of this, from time to time I came across material with outmoded ideas about gender and ethnicity. Based on the rate of publication and slow efforts to correct quality defects, I seriously doubt there’s even one full-time Wizards employee on the project now. Thus, their strategy has been to add a disclaimer that some of the books might contain problematic material.

Thus, OSR people have been uniformly happy that they could get a vast catalogue of nigh-lost material for their favorite games at an affordable price. Kidding – many are now mad about the disclaimer, of course, and are cheering on a lawsuit by a new “TSR” led by a Gygax brother. Does the lawsuit have anything to do with the disclaimer? Of course not – it’s about the new TSR filing claims on trademarks from older D&D products and other games, then claiming that TSR is infringing on them, which is not how anything works. For more information, you can read Akiva Cohen’s analysis, if you like. Maybe they’ll refile?

I really don’t think these individuals have considered the most likely outcome to any semi-successful suit: Wizards taking down all of these products and making them inaccessible once again. Maybe they’ll figure that out, but probably not.

All right – I’m done. Time to write some project emails.

Published in: on December 11, 2021 at 4:22 pm  Comments (1)  

The Yellownomicon, Stellas Daemonum and an Index Rant, Scholarly Releases, Upcoming Reviews, Dan Being Punchy for Some Reason

That’s right – “the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World” is now available in yellow and pink! See how carefully I’ve treated my copy of this historically significant work.

This was first flagged for me by Bobby D., as an inexplicable image of the Simon Necronomicon he found online. I thought it was just a misprint or badly Photoshopped image. But I found this copy in the local Barnes and Noble. It’s not a misprint, because the back cover and spine are a tan color. Someone thought this was a good idea. I don’t know – maybe it is. Maybe the goth kids these days dress in yellow and tan. As if I’d know.

I picked up Stellas Daemonum, David Crowhurst’s new book from Wiser, dealing with the orders of the demons in various grimoires. (Full disclosure: I was sent a copy to blurb, which I decided I philosophically couldn’t do due to my anti-systematization perspectives.) Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was tempered by Weiser’s omission of a bibliography and an index in the book. It has endnotes – but after that, nothing. It’s as if they just stopped this lovely, hardback, bookmarked tome right at the end.

Look. I’m not going to tell you every book needs an index. Some books are short, some books are organizationally set up to not require one, and sometimes a really detailed table of contents can work wonders. I think professional indexes are better, but my books are indexed based on a word list I created myself, and it seems to turn out fine. Yet, in most cases, books are going to need some sort of index, and a guide to various spirits definitely does. David, if you’re reading this, maybe you should talk to Weiser about putting something online for purchasers?

Richard Kieckhefer has re-released his classic Magic in the Middle Ages in a third edition. Should you get it, if you have one of the previous ones? Here’s what he has to say in the introduction:

…the new edition adds an entirely new chapter (Chapter 7) on angelic magic, a new section (in Chapter 1) on the magical efficacy of words and of illusion, a new section (in Chapter 4) on the archaeology of magic, and reference to numerous recent studies and editions, which are reflected in larger or smaller revisions of the text.

If you don’t own it and are reading this blog, you probably should pick it up.

SISMEL has also released Le Moyen Âge et les sciences, an anthology edited by Danielle Jacquart and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani. It includes one article by Charles Burnett on variant texts of On Talismans (the SISMEL edition of which I reviewed here) and Julien Véronèse on the Key of Solomon. Those two chapters may be the only ones of magical interest, and the book is quite expensive, especially for us transatlantic customers.

Owen Davies, who gave a great talk for Viktor Wynd on Sunday, published a chapter “Narratives of the Witch, the Magician, and the Devil in Early Modern Grimoires” in the new Brill collection Fictional Practice: Magic, Narration, and the Power of Imagination, which is way too expensive. I’ll see if I can’t get it through the library in a few months.

I’ve been sent a review copy of Historiola by Carl Nordblum, which will be followed by Paul Summers Young’s Four Books of Occult Philosophy, largely because I don’t think I can excuse myself from it any longer. Some of you may know I used to post Twitter polls on upcoming reviews. The outcome was either a) me reading the absolute longest book on the list, or b) someone apparently spoofing the polls to make all options equal, presumably a diabolical plan to let me read whatever I wanted. And it worked!

My Slavic game group is a DCC group once again, for a variety of reasons. I hope to return to it when I’ve got a bit more energy and creativity, but right now two groups is quite enough.

Published in: on November 25, 2021 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Nordblom’s Historiola: The Power of Narrative Charms

One topic that the current magical revival has overlooked is the use of short verbal charms for healing, protection, or other purposes. This is not for lack of source material; my six edited works of magic contain considerable material along these lines, not to mention the vast corpus stretching back millennia in many different languages. Some of it has to do with the move away in modern occultism from the healing arts, the lack of need for charms for agricultural purposes, and the emphasis in New Age-influenced spiritual practice emphasizing incense, crystals, and herbs over verbal incantations. Thus Carl Nordblom’s book Historiola: The Power of Narrative Charms seeks to introduce these works to a modern audience.

(Full disclosure: This review is based upon a hardback copy sent to me by Hadean. Also, I’ve actually considered writing a popular book on this topic, and I might do so.)

Nordblom’s book is largely geared toward practitioners with a theoretical bent, perhaps those more familiar with spirit summoning and other techniques. He explores the underpinnings for how these charms work through their references to powerful figures, the appeal to mythic occurrences linked via narrative into a present situation, and other approaches. Curiously, there is no sort of listing of charms for various purposes which might appeal more to those of a pragmatic focus. (There is a thorough bibliography and index, to help with finding particular items.)

Let’s get to the charms themselves, and how they are covered. I think it’s fair to say that Historiola is both better than what’s presented before for a wider audience, but also has some gaps in its coverage. The charms cited here span thousands of years and much of Europe and the Middle East in their geography. Nordblom has read a great deal of literature on this topic, and his discussion and bibliography testify to the work he’s done. I appreciated seeing some charms, especially those from foreign languages, that are relatively unfamiliar or that I hadn’t seen before.

Nonetheless, Nordblom is not familiar with as much of either the charms or the scholarly literature as he could have been. For example, while the charms are presented faithfully, their historical transmission is rarely explored. (At least one work absent from Nordblom’s bibliography, Roper’s English Verbal Charms, would have been a key text here.) This omission becomes problematic when Nordblom insists that charms are best taught and implemented in the original language and not in translation. Although engaging with living folk traditions can be valuable and fruitful, the length of time these charms have been in circulations and the numerous translations and permutations they have experienced, this is a problematic requirement,

Nordblom’s key focus is on the charms of an “encounter” typology, in which a supernatural authority figure meets an illness or evil during travel and exerts power to stop it. His charting and analysis of this motif is excellent, although he tends to pass over the personification of the evil force in question. I think the latter symbolic transformation into a force in the social realm, subject to that realm’s rules, is key to how these charms “work,” at least on the psychological level. Also, Nordblom takes “motion” as an important element of charms, whereas some prominent charm types merely describe a location- e.g. three fountains or flowers in a wood.

The narratives in the charms, as Nordblom notes, often feature religious figures in events not recorded in more orthodox accounts. Nordblom sees these as elaborations of the conventional narratives, suggesting that meditation on such expansions may serve a practitioner well. He does not note the charms that run counter to the accepted accounts. Indeed, he includes one such charm on page 77, in which a time-traveling Saint Peter saves the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus from bandits. I would have liked to see what Nordblom could have done with an analysis of this topic.

One other area in which the book could have been expanded was the discussion of the ritual actions and conditions that sometimes accompany these charms. Nordblom does touch on them, but there are a good number more, even in the sources he cites (such as Hohman’s Long Hidden Friend).

Despite all that I’ve just said, this is probably the best book explaining the theories and characteristics of verbal charms available to a popular audience right now, in an affordable format. I look forward to where this author might go next.

Published in: on November 24, 2021 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  

On Gal Sofer’s “‘And You Should Also Adjure in Arabic’: Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Formulas in the Solomonic Corpus”

I’ve often heard concerns from my readers about the rising price of academic publishing – especially with books that cost hundreds of dollars and might only include a couple chapters of interest. I might start covering these a bit more, especially if I run into an article as interesting as Gal Sofer’s article in the book Esoteric Transfers and Constructions from Springer.

The title of this article might cause it to be overlooked. I don’t want to say that it’s inaccurate, because Sofer’s chapter does indeed cover how various religious traditions incorporated and modified incantations from various faiths, especially those traveling from Arabic and Hebrew manuscripts into Greek and Latin translations. Sofer makes two arguments I want to emphasize, one regarding voces magicae and the other on the historical significance of Liber Bileth. (Read more on the latter at Mihai’s blog here.)

The voces magicae are the words of power often found in magical incantations, often differing wildly from the language dealing in the rest of the text. Our modern perspective on these, likely influenced by our views on medieval works and the Chaldean Oracle‘s admonition not to change the “barbarous words of evocation,” is that these are often words from other languages that have been corrupted over time. This is often true – but Sofer suggests it is not always the case:

Whereas the ceremonial acts in such works are somewhat stable, the verbal elements, that is, the adjurations and onomastics, are not. The multilingualism and the unstable nature of the nomina magica in such texts often served as catalysts for a Christian acculturation. (p. 61)

Thus, not only might a scribe translating a document from Hebrew or Arabic might not simply copy over the incantations and magical words, but in fact substitute their own. With this in mind, simply looking at the voces magicae or even the incantations might not be a reliable indicator of the origin of a ritual. The actions taken, ingredients, might give us better grounds for comparison.

What of Liber Bileth? Previously, we knew that this fifteenth-century Latin text was later translated into Hebrew, yielding the text translated at Mihai’s blog. Sofer suggests that this work derives from an original Hebrew work, the Sefer Ha-Qvizah, with fragmentary copies in the Cairo Genizah dating back to the eleventh century. Further, this work appears to have been the source of other incantations found in Dee’s Book of Soyga, the Discoverie of Witchcraft, and the Hygromanteia, the Greek precursor of the Key of Solomon. The tendency has been to favor Greek origins for the book over any Hebrew ties, but this might be changing. (That doesn’t make it any more likely the book was actually written by Solomon, of course.)

(As a side note, the spirit in Sefer Ha-Qvizah is named Bilar, which means that the “Bileth-Lilith” equation inspired by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 849, published as Forbidden Rites, might be more of a coincidence than a historical link.)

I think all of this is definitely worth of more discussion. Sofer only provides a few sample passages, which makes it difficult to estimate just how far these correspondences go and to give them a solid critique. I hope this does occur over the next few years. In the meantime, it gives grimoire aficionados a great deal to think about.

Published in: on November 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Thabit ibn Qurra On Talismans

Astrological image magic has been largely forgotten in the occult community, but for much of the Middle Ages in Europe, it was a key element of magical practice. An image or item of wax, metal, or other substances could be made at a particular astrological time to bring heavenly influences into a situation. According to the Speculum astronomiae and other religious works, this was fine, so long as it didn’t involve questionable prayers to the planets or spirits. Or burning incense. Or mysterious characters. Or incomprehensible words. And maybe images themselves might suggest idolatry…

Few magical works could navigate this gauntlet, but the survivors are some of the most common magical manuscripts to reach us from the medieval era. One such work was the De Imaginibus, or On Talismans, attributed to the ninth-century Harranian philosopher Thābit ibn Qurra. No Arabic manuscripts are known to survive, but it appears often in Latin manuscripts. As with many other medieval works, On Talismans has been mostly forgotten, with only a small press paperback translation (English only) appearing from Christopher Warnock (review here). Now SISMEL has released Thabit ibn Qurra «On Talismans» and Ps.-Ptolemy «On Images 1-9».Together with the «Liber prestigiorum Thebidis» of Adelard of Bath, a scholarly edition edited by Gideon Bohak and Charles Burnett.

One of Bohak’s many discoveries from the Cairo Genizah was a Judeo-Arabic text of De Imaginibus. This is the first text the book provides, with copious footnotes as to readings, going so far as to show photographs of difficult-to-read letters. (I wish this was affordable for some of my projects.) Based upon that text, an Arabic text has been reconstructed, with passages appearing online the two main versions of the Latin text and an English translation indicating from where each segment derives. This is excellent, although I would have liked to see each Arabic-Latin-English block placed on a separate page for ease of comprehension.

We also have editions of two other texts here. The first is a work by Pseudo-Ptolemy that often follows ibn Qurra’s text, describing its own set of magical talismans. The text is similar to the presentation of De Imaginibus. The second, the Liber prestigiorum Thebedis, is a text derived from the original that adds prayers to the planets and other forbidden processes. Given that this is only known from the Latin, this is provided with Latin and English texts on facing pages.

The amount of surrounding documentation is amazing. There’s an introduction to the text and its history, a thorough guide to its appearances in manuscripts, an appendix with parallels between De Imaginibus and the Picatrix, a set of glossaries, a bibliography, and multiple indices.

Is this a book worth pursuing? The only disappointment for potential readers may be how relatively short the magical text itself. Those interested in the history of medieval magic, and those with interests in traditional astrology and astrological magic, will find it worthwhile, if expensive. Those more interested in the spirit summoning grimoires may want to seek out other works.

Published in: on November 6, 2021 at 3:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Review: The Green Book of the Élus Coëns

A few months ago, Lewis Masonic released The Green Book of the Élus Coëns, the translation of eighteenth-century French manuscripts describing the rituals of the Christian masonic-mystical order Ordre des Chevaliers Maçons Élus Coëns de l’Univers. My understanding is that this is a revised and corrected version of a book originally published by Hell Fire Publishing; given my policy on purchasing Hell Fire books, I can’t tell you how the two versions compare.

I am neither a Mason nor a Masonic historian, so what follows will be overly simplistic. Symbolic Masonry, from the time of its origin or fluorescence in the early eighteenth century, created an organizational structure based upon three degrees of initiation utilizing the symbolism of Solomon’s temple and at least lip service to ideas of universal brotherhood. Different Masonic organizations have utilized this structure in a variety of different ways, including networking, political action, and occult exploration. The latter often occurred within a structure of higher degrees of initiation, within lodges with illustrious and questionable pedigrees that were often officially condemned or simply ignored.

One such lodge was the Élus Coëns, which everyone can agree was founded at some point between the creation of the world and 1766. Martinez de Pasqually, the Mason who either founded or revealed the order, saw its purpose as the reintegration of fallen humans into divine grace via purification, as well as connection with greater and lower spirits through theurgic invocation.

This English edition of the Green Book consists of key manuscripts of the order found at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Bibliothèque municipale de Grenoble. The first, the so-called “Algiers manuscript” which passed through the archives of that city, contains a mixture of different materials: reflections on the nature of reality, quarterly ceremonies of the Coëns, and a lengthy set of purifications, circles, and invocations dedicated to the summoning of spirits and other purposes. This is followed by a lengthy chart of 2,400 spiritual names and characters, followed with a series of illustrations of magical circles and mystical diagrams. The book ends with the catechisms of mystical teachings of the grades of the Coëns.

The presentation of the material differs between the sections. The “Algiers Manuscript” is only presented here in translation from the French. (I have not examined the original French for this review, and I am not proficient with that language anyway.) The occasional Latin passages are (mostly) translated in footnotes as well, although the transcription includes a few errors. On the other hand, the spiritual names and diagrams are reproduced in black and white facsimiles, with the names further being transcribed in the section following.

What intrigues me the most about the work is the invocations of spirits presented within. The overall structure is quite similar to that which most readers will be familiar with from the works of ritual magic; indeed, one of the dismissals could practically be taken word for word from many incantations I’ve published.

Yet there are certainly differences, including the more frequent appearance of verbs to break up the incantations, and the substitution of mystical numerology for lists of names of God and Biblical events. The purpose of some of the rituals seems to be invocation of demons – but, instead of calling them up for knowledge or material success, the Coën summons them as experienced temptations to be brought under control and vanished. I can imagine my readers reacting in vastly different ways to that statement.

One clear obsession of the work is “la Chose,” or spiritual signs that might manifest themselves during the work with displays of light or sound. Whereas some of today’s magicians set visual appearance of spirits as the proof of their abilities, the Coëns preferred these less impressive signs of their path of reintegration.

One partial ritual deserves note: an initiation intended for women working in a degree system within the order. Lest someone interpret this as a sign of enlightenment, most of the fragments involve denigrating the candidate as the embodiment of Eve’s temptation and seduction. It’s so over the top that, if it were written today, I’d suspect it was some expression of the author’s kinks. It should be noted that the order did include women in later years, so let’s hope they didn’t have to go through this.

Both the ritual magic of the medieval and early modern periods from the lodge-based magic of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries recognized the importance of a spiritually elevated person. Whereas the older ritual magic required the magician to possess these qualities, if only for a sort period, the later version saw this remolding of the person as its central mission. The Green Book provides an example of older material being refashioned into an Enlightenment-era project for remaking its initiates and the world.

The manuscript texts are preceded with a translator’s note, preface, and introduction. All of this is welcome, but it does little to contextualize the material that follows or to help define how it might be structured, which I find is often useful when dealing with unsystematic manuscripts. It does have a good number of footnotes, but the book’s lack of an index is a serious problem.

It’s that historical focus which I think will appeal to most of its readers, especially those interested in Freemasonry and lodge magic. The Élus Coëns rituals seem to have had little impact on the occult world, or at least with the Anglo-American occult world with which I am most familiar, and the ceremonies and the goals thereof are somewhat out of step with much of both grimoire and contemporary occult magic. I’m glad I purchased it, as it illuminates the practices of a group on which little English language material exists.

Published in: on October 30, 2021 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Relaxation, Upcoming Reviews, Thabit ibn Qurra’s Book on Talismans, Slavic Monsters

I tried to finish two books at once – following two collaborative book chapters at work – so I’m taking it easy for now.

It has allowed me to catch up on my reading. The next review will be The Green Book of the Élus Coëns. I’ve also dipped into the amulets, magical bowls, and Genizah magical texts in the reprint of Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked’s Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity.

I’ve also been dipping into the Post-Vulgate Story of Merlin and a few of the minor Arthurian epics, slightly similar to what Greg Stafford did when writing Pendragon. I mainly underline examples of interesting behavior and values, while writing snarky commentary in the margins.

SISMEL in Italy has released a scholarly edition of a famous text on astrological image magic. From their website:

This book contains a reconstruction of Thabit ibn Qurra’s On Talismans, based on a recently-discovered Judaeo-Arabic text in the Cairo Genizah and the Latin versions. On Talismans, probably written in Baghdad in the late ninth century, was the most authoritative medieval text on the procedure for making talismans that depended for their efficacy on the natural influences of the stars. The Genizah manuscripts also include the first nine talismans of the On the Images on the Decans of the Signs attributed to Ptolemy, a work which forms a natural complement to Thabit’s text and is therefore included in this edition. Editions of the major excerpts of, and quotations from, these two texts in Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, have been added, and the Latin translation of another (lost) Arabic version of Thabit’s text – the Liber prestigiorum Thebidis – made by Adelard of Bath, completes the volume. Adelard’s version adds elements of ceremonial magic (including prayers to spiritual forces) to the effects of the stars. The texts edited here are essential sources for our knowledge of the theory and practice of astrological talismans in the Middle Ages and early modern period.

I’m looking forward to this, although I should note that they do not mention an English version of the text. You can find a non-scholarly edition by John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock here. (UPDATE: I’ve received it, but I haven’t had time to figure out what they’re doing with the text.) is running some of my Slavic monsters I wrote up for my Slavic game. At this point, they’ve published the bayechnik and the preglavica, with four more to come. Check out some of the other submissions while you’re there.

The Viktor Wynd Museum has been holding online lectures on a variety of topics of interest to Papers readers. I’ve been enjoying the Cornish folklore series and the talks by Ronald Hutton. At the end of his talk on fairies, Hutton recommended Jeremy Harte’s Explore Fairy Tradition, which is proving to be even better than I had hoped. American readers should be aware that the Amazon price is well above what the publisher offers. Heart of Albion does ship to the US with Paypal, but you might want to indicate in your email that you’re a real person.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Published in: on October 24, 2021 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Review: Ars Notoria, The Method – Version B, Medieval Angel Magic

Although the second volume of Dr. Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria was delayed slightly, it’s now come into my possession, and I’m prepared to talk about it.

(I will not be diving into the Ars Notoria’s history and purpose. If you want to learn more, read my post here. You can also read my review of Volume 1.)

First, I want to address how I’m approaching this book. Skinner explicitly states in the introduction that this work is intended for practitioners, and not as a scholarly work. I think this is a perfectly fine approach, and my intent here is not to hold it to those standards. Nonetheless, those people who want to practice a months-long medieval ritual will probably be interested in the sort of details I’m covering, so I feel it’s useful to analyze in that light.

The second volume has gone through some interesting changes as Skinner worked on it. In his scholarly edition of the Ars Notoria, Julien Véronèse separates the major textual traditions into two categories, Recension A and Recension B. Skinner’s first volume is mainly oriented around Recension A. This new volume was first intended to be a translation of Recension B of the Ars Notoria, as portrayed in Bibliothèque Nationale de France MS. Latin 9336 (not currently available in digitization). (UPDATE: Girordano Paradros encouraged me to check again; you can find it digitized here.)

According to Skinner’s account of what happened next, he examined Véronèse’s transcription of the manuscript. He found it to be highly disorganized, and what content was added compared to Recension A was lengthy glosses that added little to the text’s practice. (You can find an example in his appendices.) With this in mind, he revised his concept of the book to make it a guide to those wishing to practice the Ars Notoria. I do wonder if another manuscript would have been chosen if that were the plan when starting the book.

With that caveat, Skinner accomplishes what he set out to do. The description of how exactly to perform this work – which usually takes four lunar months – is clear and methodical. Skinner provides us the different objectives that the magician may pursue, then walks through every step of the process, even providing a table of the proper timing for pursing various goals. Some of the material, such as the schedule for the various prayers and orations.

The text itself is a reorganized version of the Latin text. It begins with the general bringing together all the sections that cover a particular topic – grammar, rhetoric, geometry, theology, or even virtues such as chastity and taciturnity. For each one, Skinner gives us the nota, or illustration to be examined in the fourth month; the orations, or lists of magical names, to be said; and the prayers, more orthodox Christian devotions.

The sourcing of the three categories is somewhat odd. The notae are reproductions of the pages from the French manuscript. The orations are taken from the same manuscript transcribed in Véronèse, and the prayers are presented as English translations taken from Robert Turner’s 1656 edition, without the Latin.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this approach, mind you. I’m also incorporating seventeenth-century English translations in the Book of Four Wizards, for passages with corrupted Latin taken from other works, e.g. Agrippa and the Arbatel, with the Latin in footnotes. Interested parties can find less corrupted Latin texts online and better modern translations of these works in English (Purdue and Peterson, respectively). I think it can be a respectable choice when publishing a text. Yet it would be nice to see some more explanation as to why the prayers weren’t transcribed or translated from the French manuscript. Skinner states that he found the method can be practiced without them, so perhaps this accounts for it.

It is very much to Skinner’s credit that he provides enough notes and commentary that he is transparent about where each piece of the book originates, while clarifying some of the language and order of the text. The appendices provide lists of the various notae, the order and usage of the prayers and orations, the calculation of ecclesiastical and planetary hours, and the origin of the divine names in the manuscript. The index is brief and covers the table of contents and the author’s book list, so I’m not sure how much I’d rely upon it.

A potential practitioner might be able to make it with just Volume 2. Still, the notae given in Volume 2 are smaller than the full-page ones given in Volume 1, and I think being able to view the larger ones would be more satisfying. I could see a practitioner with both books open, viewing the nota in the first while saying the prayers relating to it in the second. If you want the Latin, you might have to check out Véronèse’s book.

Advising potential purchasers on this book is going to be complicated. If you just want the full text of the manuscript involved, without a desire for practice, I’d definitely go for Volume 1 and Véronèse’s edition. Practitioners will find a system that is accessible and easy to follow, given the inherent complexity of the Ars Notoria. Yet I wonder how many of the people who would practice the Ars Notoria will also want to read the prayers in the original Latin, or to dive into the marginal glosses. (Really – I don’t know how much of the audience who buys the book would want such things.) I feel as if this book could have included at least some of that material, to open up some alternatives for those who wished to practice in that manner.

Published in: on October 5, 2021 at 11:16 pm  Comments (2)  

Publishing Update

Hey, everyone. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?

My local campus has had a high positivity rate. Although I generally feel safe, working under those conditions can be quite draining – I’m sure many of you are aware of this.

The Book of Four Wizards (provisional title) has been submitted to Llewellyn. S. Aldarnay was nice enough to mock up the circle above, based on the illustrations and instructions in the book. It’s not something shown in the manuscript, as it exceeded the copyist’s ability to draw it – but modern technology and a good artist made it happen.

I’ve also sent in comments on the witch bottle book.

I’ve wrapped my DCC game, with one player betraying the rest to the Court of Chaos and escaping. Given that they all privately agreed with various individuals to betray the others, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them.

My Pendragon and Slavic games are still ongoing.

I’ve got a post or two in the hopper, so I’ll get to them next. One is a review of the second volume of Dr. Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria. So come back soon!

Published in: on September 17, 2021 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment