Upcoming Releases on Faustian Magic, the Three Magi

Two brief notices on books worth watching for, and that are highly unlikely to show up in your local bookstore.

Enodia Press has announced the imminent release of its latest collection of ritual magic texts attributed to the infamous Faust.   Dr. Faust’s Greatest and Most Powerful Sea-Spirit is a compilation of three infamous works of magic that have been previously unpublished, along with a work from an unpublished manuscript. It takes a little more effort to order books from Enodia, but it has been consistently worth it for both their presentation and their unmatched contents.

Revelore is releasing a new book by Dr. Al Cummins: an exploration of the folklore, prayers, and spells that elaborate on the story of the Three Magi. A Book of the Magi promises to be excellent, and I’m looking forward to it.

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Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Touch Me Not!

In an age of stunning works of occult art, it bears remembering that much of the literature of ritual magic is largely bereft of these qualities. The goal of most such works was to record a magical procedure for later use, instead of creating a work that was aesthetically pleasing. Even the circles and characters on which they depended were drawn with varying degrees of care and accuracy.

We do have some exceptions, however, such as Wellcome 1766, the Compendium Rarissimum totius Artis Magicae, known better as Noli Me Tangere, or Touch Me Not.  It’s the source for many images of demonology and magic that have turned up increasingly online, such as the one below:

Dagol deals with rude customers with aplomb

Courtesy Wellcome Institute

Now, Fulgur Limited has brought us a stunning new edition of this manuscript, Touch Me Not!

The book itself is the size of a large art book, its black cover emblazoned with the title in red.  My copy arrived with some wear, but this was atypical and Fulgur quickly replaced it. (I gave my worn copy to a friend, telling him he’d be fine so long as he followed the instructions on the cover as I handed it to him.) Within we have a full facsimile of the manuscript, plus some of the more impressive plates repeated as part of the introduction. If you want a NSFW coffee table book of occult art that you can leave out to horrify guests, this would be most excellent for the purpose.

The contents are very good, as well.  After an introduction to the entire work, we get parallel texts, one the Latin and German original, the other an English translation. Throughout the text, Tilton and Cox note the sources from which the text was taken, including a German version of The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin, the Heptameron, the Magical Calendar, and the works of del Rio, Agrippa, and Trithemius. One interesting source is von Eckhartshausen’s Aufschlüsse zur Magie, published from 1788-92.  Thus, we can assign the text to the late eighteenth century at the earliest. This likely places it among a number of eighteenth-century magical works from Germany that were assembled from various sources for the collector’s market.

For those who are curious, this does not present a comprehensive work of magic, but a collection of various portions of rites, procedures involving various narcotics and incenses, instructions to locate treasure and to make a magical mirror, and admonitions to practitioners. Some of the material is of interest, especially that not presented before in English, but most of it seems to be dressing for the impressive illustrations.

Tilton’s introduction to Touch Me Not! provides insight into a number of different issues, including the origins of the text, the use of narcotics in magic, and the magical treasure-hunting of the time.  The work incorporates a bibliography, but not an index – although the inclusion of one would be debatable, given the length of the text.

It’s fair to say that the book will be of great interest to students and aficionados of occult art, as well as to collectors of handsome occult works. If you’re assembling a collection of works on ritual magic based upon textual content or influence, this might be a purchase for later – although waiting to purchase magical works from small presses often leads to disappointment…

 

 

 

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing

Oddly enough, despite his extensive catalog of works published through Inner Traditions, Professor Claude Lecouteux’s new releases get little attention. His latest work, Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing, didn’t show up in their catalog, and I only learned of it while exploring the shelves of the Union Square Barnes and Noble.  It’s likely many readers won’t hear of it, which is a shame. Lecouteux provides us with a marvelous excavation of the intellectual strata of magic, providing a wealth of spells and charms for these purposes. Yet the book is also a frustrating one in terms of organization.

traditional-magic-spells-for-protection-and-healing-9781620556214_hrIf you are interested in reading a collection of spells to protect and heal derived from magical traditions from across Europe, this certainly fits the bill. The format is very similar to that in The Book of Grimoires, although the coverage is much more broad. Frankly, I wish that Lecouteux had downplayed Pliny, given his availability in translation, but the bulk of material consists of remedies from medieval and early modern manuscripts and non-English works and journals dealing with folklore. The short commentaries vary in their usefulness for me and seem spotty in nature, but I think less specialized readers will find them welcome.

In terms of its content, this book is wonderful. As for its organization, it leaves me completely baffled as to why it was arranged as it was.  We begin with magical methods of diagnosis, followed by a lengthy section giving the cures for various ailments in alphabetical order.  Initially each section appears to be arranged chronologically from the earliest charms to the latest, but this breaks down in some of the longer sections. We even have a section for dealing with spells that heal multiple ailments – although not all the spells that do so are included in this section.

The next chapter deals with protections against evil spells, the Evil Eye, and witchcraft. Next come compilations of charms against demons, and then against fairies, trolls, and other such spirits – although remedies for demons are mixed in with them. Then we return to healing, this time for animals – although I’ve found charms to cure animals in previous sections – and finally to ways of warding off natural disasters, ghosts (who are distinguished from other spirits), witchcraft, and other dangers.

All of this is followed with a curious series of appendices: a brief work on healing by Saint Bernardine of Siena; descriptions of the deeds of sorcerers by Bernard Gui and Cyrano de Bergerac (a passage I read as satiric); a brief section on encrypted and enciphered spells; an untranslated page on healing from the works of Jean Fernel; procedures for making a man impotent; a list of French and Belgian saints and the afflictions they cure, and a few pages of talismans attributed to Apollonius of Tyana.  I won’t say that these are unconnected with the text, but why exactly this particular selection of topics was chosen as appendices is not always clear. Overall, it’s hard to come up with reasons why this book would have taken the form it did.

If you’ve got a book as I’ve just described, what will really pull it together is a good, comprehensive index that can make the contents available howsoever they are organized. This one… is not so great.  In many cases it simply covers the categories already present, without detailing other appearances of the same topic elsewhere.

This is not to say that this is an unwelcome book.  The material collected within is great, the bibliography is an amazing resources, and a casual reader will be very happy with it. If you’re working on any projects on spells like this, you’ll probably also want it – but you’ll likely find problematic if you want to find anything in particular, or if you start asking yourself why “Anthrax” and “Charbon (Anthrax)” are two different headings, for instance. Nonetheless, unless you’ve spent a great deal of time building a magical library and are a master of several languages, you probably don’t have a collection like this.

Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Necronomicon Files Banned in Texas Prisons

The Dallas Morning News just published a story on a lengthy list of permitted and banned books maintained by penal system in Texas. It features a searchable index of all the books that inmates are not allowed to own.

Being curious as to whether our friend Simon’s books are on it, I ran a quick search – only to find that The Necronomicon Files is on the list!  I’m guessing this is because of one particular piece of art in the book that includes nudity.  As it happens, so is my edition of The Long-Lost Friend

As for Simon? Texas really likes his works. You can check the downloadable list of permitted books in the spreadsheet just above the search box. The Necronomicon Spellbook is listed twice, and, depending upon how you interpret some of the vague entries, Simon’s Necronomicon has been approved between three and five different times.  Even though I don’t particularly care for Simon and his works, I think that he has a perfect right to have them appear.

Other approved works include those of friends of the blog Joshua Free and Kenneth Hite, as are the Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green RPGs. Oh, yes, and the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is free to own.

The list possesses some strange elements. First, some purely academic works on magic, such as Ankarloo and Clark’s Witchcraft and Magic in Europe series, and Seligmann’s Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, aren’t on the list. Second, there are plenty of works on magic on the approved list – run a search for “magic” or “charm” in that spreadsheet – that are probably similar in content to the Friend.

Oh yes – and Neo-Nazi and white supremacist works are perfectly fine.

The takeaway? Censorship is wrong, and its implementation leads people to make bizarre decisions, especially when it comes to works on the occult.

 

Published in: on December 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm  Comments (1)  

How Not to Critique a Book

A few months ago, I read Ronald Hutton’s book The Witch. I thought it was a pretty good survey of witch beliefs across history and geography, with some chapters on aspects of early modern British witchcraft, including its linkage with fairies, Celtic cultures, and animals.  It never becomes a thick description of any one of these issues, which makes it less useful for the sort of research I’m doing right now, but it isn’t general enough to make it a casual read.  I also wonder why certain resources, such as ethnographies and fairy magic sources, didn’t get used to the extent they could have.

There is, however, a wrong way to critique a book. Let me give you an example from Peter Grey, Alkistis Dimech, and Gordon White, on a recent Runesoup podcast:

Now, it’s sometimes hard to be precise and accurate when talking off the top of one’s head, and Gordon admitted he hadn’t read the whole book. I really do like and appreciate the work that all of these people do. I understand if they don’t like all aspects of Hutton’s work or approach, and there may very well be a time when his perspective is overturned by future discoveries.

…except that the description sounds as if Hutton is using The Witch as an opportunity to denigrate twenty-something witches and advocating a happy watered-down polite neighborhood Neopaganism which believes in the threefold law, which has no relation to the substance of the book.  If you doubt that, you can search it in Google for any keywords you like. Thus, it’s really unclear as to how Hutton’s own spirituality might compromise the book..

It’s a dangerous road for publishers to go down. After all, if Peter Grey can tell you not to buy The Witch based on content not in it, others could say whatever they want about Scarlet Imprint’s Jinn Sorcery and make arguments against buying it.  And that would be a shame, because I think it sounds like a really great book that I’m looking forward to. There are enough mistakes and incorrect information floating around out there, without adding to them with carelessness.

Published in: on November 18, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Update on the Newberry Book of Magical Charms

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

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

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

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

Happy All Saints Day!

I haven’t had a lot of updates lately, but not due to lack of interest in blogging topics. I’ve got two major projects coming down to the wire right now that require my attention.  Thus, a quick rundown:

  • Yesterday Cornell University opened a great new witchcraft exhibit, displaying the cream of their wonderful collection. The story doesn’t mention the reception, at which they served white chocolate mice with raspberry filling, little eyeballs made out of mozzarella, and miniature cauldrons of chocolate pudding.  If you’re passing through central New York, the exhibit will be open until August of next year.

 

 

  • I can’t recall too many recent releases not noted already that have really gotten me excited.  One good candidate has been José Leitão’s The Immaterial Book of St. Cyprian, a collection of treasure-hunting legends that have involved the works of the famous saint with parallel Portuguese-English text.  If you’re keen on learning more about the Iberian Cyprian beliefs, José has created a Patreon to help with his further Cyprianic researches.

 

  • Another work of interest that appeared recently and completely under the radar was Vedrai Mirabilia: Un Libro di Magia del Quattrocento. This is a fifteenth-century Italian book of magic, edited by Jean-Patrice Boudet, Laurence Moulinier-Brogi, and the late Florence Gal.  I probably won’t run a review of this, as I feel that would require an examination too detailed for me to conduct at the moment.  It does have long sections on astrological talismans and love magic, especially involving wax images, but it also has occasional spots of weirdness, such as naming Hercules as a king of the four directions.

 

  • Gaming update! My Basic D&D Rules Cyclopedia game is now over a year old.  The characters have looted the Caves of Chaos, overcome the Veiled Society, and staved off Night’s Black Terror. They now move to Expert-level play – and if you know the X series of modules and me, you know which one I chose.

 

  • My other group is running through a short campaign of Iron Heroes, the old D&D 3E variant with no magic and lots of – well, some – tokens.   I don’t feel the system does what it sets out to do, perhaps because cinematic action in 3E is often countered by the desire for balance.

That’s all for now.

 

 

Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Price of Occult Books, Part 6 – Possible Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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