Review – Edward Poeton: The Winnowing of White Witchcraft

While at Treadwell’s on my UK trip, I picked up Cunning Folk: An Introductory Bibliography, which is out of date but still fascinating. One key work mentioned within was a work by the early seventeenth physician Edward Poeton, “The Winnowing of White Witchcraft,” which only existed in manuscript form in Sloane 1954. I was trying to figure out whether I should spend time at the British Library tracking it down, and I was happy to see that Poeton’s work had just been published by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. The book doesn’t even seem to have made its way to Amazon, but fortunately one of my local libraries came through for me on a copy of this important primary source on early modern cunning folk, their practices, and the arguments for and against their practices.

First, a few caveats. Winnowing is a thin paperback, and the price point of $45 is more than I’d be willing to spend. Even though this work is of direct use in my research, I’m really on the fence about whether I should purchase it. Further, the bulk of the text replicates the spelling of the original. This is fine for two of the speakers, but the third…

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Poeton’s Winnowing is an unpublished treatise on the cunning folk.  As with many such works at the time, it is written in the form of a dialogue, in which a wise and knowledgeable teacher instructs a student in error who is nonetheless willing to ask questions and learn. In Winnowing, we have three parties: a clergyman with a doctorate in divinity, a physician, and the country squire who has been promoting cunning folk. The first two are intelligible, but Poeton has placed the squire’s words in a bizarrely spelled depiction of a local dialect which is quite difficult for modern readers.

The arguments that the doctor and the physician use are somewhat lacking, but what should interest today’s readers are the perspectives they take, illustrative of contemporary attitudes, and some of the details they give. We do get the names and/or locations of particular cunning folk active at the time, for instance. There are also one or two tidbits on interesting folk and magical practices I haven’t run into elsewhere, such as the carving of crosses into trees around a field to drive off fairies, or that spirits called up by a magician with a hazel wand should kiss that wand, extended beyond the circle (similar to the table ritual in Oberon which involves a fairy kissing a scepter).

Simon Davies, the editor, does a fine job in providing the background for the book and some initial notes on cunning folk practice at the time. He also provides numerous footnotes for the text itself, a list of Biblical references, an index, and a bibliography to supplement it.

I did like this book, but I think the price point, language, and focus – not to mention the present distribution method – will keep it out of the reach of many readers, which is a shame. Nonetheless, if you’re researching seventeenth-century magic or the historical nature of cunning folk, this is worth tracking down.

Advertisements
Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Forthcoming – A Cunning Man’s Grimoire

I missed posting this one during my trip.

Golden Hoard is back with another publication of a book of magic – A Cunning Man’s Grimoire. Here are some details:

It is a composite grimoire drawn from a number of different sources. It is not the sort of grimoire which has a complete method of calling up a set register of spirits, like the Goetia, nor does it have a wide range of pentacles or talismans like the Key of Solomon.

It is however quite special as it was also was a practising Cunning man’s grimoire, a very interesting blend of learned and local village magic. It also contains a lot of critical astrological information (including its own set of astrological tables) which are an important part of magic, but which don’t feature to a large extent in other grimoires. It goes way beyond Planetary days and hours, to detailed aspects of timing and also contains magical operations connected with the 28 Mansions of the Moon and image magic, which were usually absent from Solomonic grimoires.

Having talked with David Rankine in Boscastle, I should add that it has at least some operations relating to ritual magic, and that it’s from the sixteenth century.  I’ve ordered a copy, and I’ll be reviewing it when it arrives.

Published in: on June 5, 2018 at 7:27 pm  Comments (4)  

Article “Of Fairies” Published in Folklore

I thought I’d get to the travelogue first – but my latest article, “Of Fairies,” was just published in the journal Folklore. Here’s the official link, but you can find the unofficial postprint below:

Harms Of Fairies Folklore Postprint

 

Published in: on May 24, 2018 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Appearance on the Folklore Podcast

I’ve been gone for a few weeks, because I’ve been in England. I promise a full and undesirable travelogue for all of you.

In the meantime, you should know that my lecture, delivered at the Dew of Heaven conference put on by the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, has been recorded and uploaded as the latest episode of The Folklore Podcast.

More to follow!

Published in: on May 23, 2018 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Review of Medicine, Magic, and Art in Early Modern Norway: Conceptualizing Knowledge

I just finished a book that I know most of you will not want to read. But if you’re interested in grimoire manuscripts, you definitely should give Ohrvik’s Medicine, Magic and Art in Early Modern Norway: Conceptualizing Knowledge a look through your local library. (This was a purchased copy, and I’ve got a chapter appearing in an upcoming release from the same publisher.)

Note that I didn’t actually say you should purchase this book. This is for two reasons. First, it’s $100 retail, which is quite expensive.

Second, there’s the binding. As you may have noticed, although I do appreciate a beautifully bound work, I don’t go into raptures about such things. My appreciation of a book as an art object is mitigated by my desire to read it, stack it up, carry it around in my laptop bag for weeks, etc., all of which is made more difficult if it’s nice. But I draw the line when a publisher is asking $100 for a book in which you can hear the glue cracking as you read it. (I’m talking to them about it right now.)

The irony of this is that Ohrvik’s work is dedicated to various aspects of the black books of Norway. Given the censorship prevalent in the Norwegian and Danish press, magic typically traveled through oral transmission or handwritten works. Ohrvik examines many different exemplars of the latter, emphasizing their physical appearance, titles, attributions, and textual organization.  These are aspects of grimoires often overlooked when contemporary occult scholars study such works, so her perspectives on these issues are quite valuable.

Let’s take the size. From the opprobrium directed against these books, one might expect that the compilers would seek to keep them in the smallest size possible. If the surviving books are any indication, however, the most common sizes were the larger quarto and octavo formats. This, along with the wear placed upon them, suggests that the black books of Norway were kept secreted away in households for use, rather than carried on the person to be consulted in other settings.

Another section is devoted to those responsible for such books – whether we define them as authors, copyists, compilers, or the figures to which they are attributed. This brings us to St. Cyprian, and there is considerable discussion of this figure as relates to the attribution of these works and his purported areas of expertise.  There’s only so far that manuscript titles and introductions can take us when assembling a picture of Cyprian, and Ohrvik supplements it through discussing similar traditions in the rest of Europe – although she misses the Iberian examples, for some reason.

Yet it’s not perfect, as setting content analysis aside doesn’t always provide the entire picture. For example, Early Modern Norway has an excellent discussion of claims many black books make to originate in Wittenberg – yet it is silent on the question of how much of the content of these works might actually have their origins from that city, or other German sources. Likewise, Ohrvik elsewhere hypothesizes that the authors’ inclusion of elements more common in prestigious printed books shows a recognition that private works might eventually become more public. If we consider the content of the manuscript, however, as an expression of and adjunct to the magical efficacy of its owner, we might see that imitating a prestigious format of publication may be a strategy of legitimizing both the contents and one’s own magical practice.

This is not to say that this work is not valuable, but that future collaborations between those examining the physical aspects of the books and their contents might yield even more fruit.

I would have appreciated it if Orhvik had included a lengthy catalogue of the manuscripts covered in the book. This is only a minor concern, however, as most of them are fully digitised online by the University of Oslo.

Thus, if you’re interested in learning about what we know about books of magic beyond the charms and incantations therein, this one may be for you, although you should note my concerns about price point and quality above. If you prefer the magical formulae itself, please feel free to give it a pass.

 

 

 

Published in: on May 5, 2018 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

Edward Hunter’s Key of Rabbi Solomon and Mormonism

Recently, commenter Adonia Zanoni asked me to write a review of the nineteenth-century Key of Rabbi Solomon, as issued by Hell Fire Club.  This is probably late for most potential buyers, as only the 11-copy super deluxe edition remains for sale, but I’ll handle this as best I’m able.

Full disclosure: I might be working with Hell Fire on a project in the future, so keep that in mind when reading this review.

The Key consists of two booklets, one consisting of a facsimile of the original manuscript of the Key (currently in private hands), and the other a brief introduction to and transcript of the manuscript. All of this is attractively presented and printed, although you’ll certainly see differences based upon the edition acquired (I went for the cheap kidskin).

As for the manuscript itself, I’ve compared it with the Sibley Clavis edited by Joseph Peterson. Most of it corresponds in organization and chapters to that manuscript, although the text is different enough to suggest a different translator – up to a point.  That is, the book breaks off in the middle of the chapter of the talismans of Mercury, corresponding to Wednesday. Thus, if you were expecting a full Key, you will be disappointed.

Yet, sad to say, I’ve had to back burner a more in-depth examination of the book, in order to deal with one particular aspect of the book. Let’s look at the title page:

The Keys
of
Rabbi Solomon

Translated accurately from the
Hebrew into English
by
Edward Hunter

According to the book’s introduction included in the transcript, this Edward Hunter is identical to the man of the same name (1793-1883) who served as the presiding bishop of the Church of Latter-Day Saints for over three decades. Here are some illustrative quotes from the introduction:

It is now little surprise to that we find yet another top Mormon leader who has transcribed what can be determined as highly ritualized, magical, Solomonic arts.

This manuscript is hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.

This manuscript is indeed that “smoking gun”, finally putting to rest the question surrounding Mormon Hermeticism, Kabbalism, and the practice of Solomonic ritual magic.

So – is it the “smoking gun”? Connections between the early Mormons, especially Joseph Smith, and ceremonial magic have been hotly debated back and forth for years. If I might dip into a highly complex and controversial question, I can say that what little literature I’ve read on the topic on both sides shows little knowledge of the literature and practice of ritual magic.

Let’s focus in on this manuscript now, with a discussion examination of the title page above. I think most readers will already be aware that King Solomon did not write any of the “keys” associated with him. Further, the Key of Solomon‘s origins lie in the Greek Hygromanteia, with no proof of Hebrew origins; indeed, what Hebrew copies we have, such as the Gollancz edition, are copies of much later editions translated into Hebrew. The introduction to the transcript claims that Hunter “transcribed” the book, but that is incorrect with regard to the statement on the title page, on which Hunter claims to have translated the book from Hebrew. I can expect a certain degree of deception on the title page of a grimoire, but this certainly raises questions as to how much we can believe any one part of it.

Next, is the Edward Hunter to whom this manuscript is ascribed the same person as the Mormon Bishop? As I’ve learned through researching figures such as “William Bellhouse” and “George Graham,” making sure that one has the right person out of many with a similar name is crucial when it comes to history. Can we connect these two Edward Hunters?

The book provides little helpful material. In the original listing, Hell Fire noted that the watermark of “Whatmans 1827” appeared on the paper. (This piece of information seems to have been lost in a website move that occurred in the last week, but you can still read it here.) Thus, it’s quite plausible that the date of composition occurred during Bishop Hunter’s life.

Beyond that, however, the old Hell Fire website description only tells us that the manuscript “is believed by specialists to have been [created] sometime around 1830 by the Bristol based merchant Edward Hunter,” who “later had links to the Mormon groups in the United States.” This was certainly not Bishop Hunter, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Thus, we have a gap between the promotional material and the introduction.

As you might recalled, we were assured that the the book is “hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.” In that case, we might compare it to other writings attributed to him, including this letter from Edward Hunter to Joseph Smith from October 27, 1841. This is treacherous ground, as I cannot say definitively that one or the other of these documents was not written for Hunter by a clerk or employee, although the number of errors in both suggests a professional scribe was not involved in either one.

Nonetheless, I have gone through a few pages of both documents, extracted images of identical words, and present them below, based upon the principle of fair use:

Word Hunter Letter Hunter Clavis
That  Hunter Letter That  Hunter Clavis That
All  Hunter Letter All  Hunter Clavis Illustrations All
The Hunter Letter The Hunter Clavis Illustrations The
Expences  Hunter Letter Expences  Hunter Clavis Illustrations Expences
Being Hunter Letter Being Hunter Clavis Illustrations Being
And Hunter Letter And Hunter Clavis Illustrations And
Proper Hunter Letter Proper Hunter Clavis Illustrations Proper

The above items speak for themselves – but in case it remains unclear, I should point out in particular the crossbars in the “t”s in “that,” the lower part of the “g” in “being,” and the curve on the “d” in “and.”

At this point, the evidence points away from the Mormon bishop as the transcriber or translator of the book. I should add that, after having contacted the publisher, the editor, and a researcher involved in the Hunter Clavis, I have yet to see any countervailing evidence that might convince me otherwise. Perhaps it will be forthcoming in the following weeks, and I will update this post if it is.

Want to know more about the book? Do you have a perspective on the evidence? In either case, just leave it in the comments below.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 6:33 pm  Comments (3)  

Revelore Press on the Magi and Scandinavian Magic, with a Note on Hutton

Some quick updates:

  • Revelore Press is a new publisher that has taken up the mantle – and some of the back catalog – of Rubedo Press, especially their Cyprian-related publications.
  • Revelore also just released the enjoyable new book by the wonderful Al Cummins, A Book of the Magi, dealing with their appearances in folklore, festival, and magic. The only downside to this is that reading it prompted me to start finding  Magi references in all sorts of magical works, which I send to Al, which means he’s probably going to get stuck with writing a sequel. If you’re interested in Christian-themed folk magic or popular religious practices, it’s worth looking at.
  • Revelore has also announced an upcoming book called Svartkönstbocker, a compilation of extracts from the black books of Sweden taken from the work of the late Thomas K. Johnson. The publisher has the rights to his thesis, which is this tremendous translation of many black books that I’ve reviewed previously. I’ll keep an eye on this one, to see how much of those thirty-five grimoires covering five hundred pages they’re going to reprint.
  • Speaking of Swedish magic and folklore… someone here was asking for information on the year walk, or årsgång. I found this article on the topic, for those interested.
  • I’m still working on the Hunter Clavis review, which is delayed due to time constraints. I’m comparing its contents to Sibley – those who want to compare it to Mathers or Skinner and Rankine can do so themselves, because otherwise I won’t have time to work on anything else.
  • Due to an unexpected work-related book review assignment, I have now read all of Hutton’s book The Witch twice, which means that I now have more extensive opinions on it.  I’d stand by my assessment as “pretty good,” but I can see some more of the seams. For example, the subtitle, “A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present,” is bound to throw people off, as the period of the witch trials and afterward is given only a short chapter, along with examinations of particular issues during the trials that relate largely to the British Isles. The chapters on elves and familiars are both must-reads if you’re interested in those topics – but finding them in a book on witches isn’t exactly where one might expect to encounter them. There’s certainly nothing more than a brief allusion to modern witchcraft, and certainly no mention of particular figures or critique of doctrines.
Published in: on April 12, 2018 at 6:52 pm  Comments (3)  

Your Blogger Gets with the Ways of the Youth – Japanese Grimoires and Powwowing

That’s right, everyone! I’m going to demonstrate what a hep cat I am, posting images like the kids are doing on their Instachat! And it’s not just because AncientHistory sent me some fun books that are all in Japanese:

img_6058-e1522111869692.jpg

Japanese grimoires aplenty!

img_6061.jpg

The Key of Solomon

Key of Solomon Seal of Mercury

Ryukyodo 2007

The first of two books with pictures of Goetic spirits

II Spirits of Solomon

IMG_6066

The demon Sabnock, who can inflict gangrene on you if you’re not careful.

If any readers have more insight into these books, please post in the comments.

I’ve also got some shots of Patrick Donmoyer’s new book Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life. You can order copies directly from the Cultural Heritage Center through this form, or from Masthof Press in hardcover and softcover.

Powwowing in Pennsylvania Cover

This is the hardcover edition, sent to me by Patrick.

IMG_6095

Some of the beautiful pictures inside the book, depicting folk magic procedures.

Three Cross Knife and powwowing cane

You heard about the black-handled knife? Wait until you find out about the Three Cross Knife. Also, we can see some powwowing canes.

Three Kings Blessing

One of the stunning publications preserved in the Heilman Collection.

That’s all for now. I’ll see about reviewing the Hunter Clavis next week!

Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 9:32 am  Comments (3)  

Picatrix Translations in the Works

Apparently two scholarly editions of the Picatrix are in the works.

First, Liana Saif, author of The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy, is working on a new edition of the book. I don’t know if it has a publisher yet; I think it’s changed hands between them at least once.

Also, PSU Press includes a listing for “The History of Magic” that includes a Picatrix edition translated by David Attrell and David Porreca.  Right now, that particular link goes nowhere, so I suppose we’ll find out more later.

Which one will be published first, I wonder?

Published in: on March 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (9)  

Review – Dr. Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit

The German occult scene has seen many books of ritual magic attributed to the infamous Doctor Faust appear over the years. Most of these have remained untranslated into other languages, but recently they have begun to appear in English, most notably through the Mexican publisher Enodia. Following their releases of the Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis and the Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic, they now present one of the books that I’ve been most keen to read ever since I read about it in Butler’s Ritual Magic: Grosser und Gewaltiger Meergeist. Now Nicolás Álvarez’ latest translation, Doctor Johannes Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit, finally scratches that itch.

Before going forward, I should add that I’m in talks with another publisher to work on an edition of Meergeist. Please read the following in light of this potential conflict of interest. Plus, this is a book I purchased, rather than a review copy.

We begin with an introduction from Álvarez , providing insight into the background and cultural significance of the book and its contents. It particularly notes the more imaginative aspects of the ritual, and Álvarez also provides us with insights on the early modern attitudes toward the imagination and its usage in magic. The only small addition I wanted were a few notes, especially for the mythological and folkloric significance of underwater beings. The book also includes a bibliography, but lacks an index.

The bulk of the book consists of four treatises on magic, beginning with the Sea-Spirit itself. In this experiment, a magician creates a massive metal circle, using chains from a gallows and nails from a breaking wheel.  He places it by a body of water, and then brings three companions and a black hen. We then see a curious interlude in which Lucifer and his subservient spirits appear before the magician and discuss the great riches that they hold. Then Lucifer and Amaymon take on the form of Persian merchants and greet the magician, asking him whether they have the seven souls necessary to complete the operation. The magician cites himself, his three companions, the two demons, and a black hen, and demands the treasure.

Álvarez provides us with three additional rites, two of which are connected with the water. The first, taken from Darmstadt MS 831, is a waterside rite to call up the spirit Quirumndai, who can bring treasure and teach the magician secrets in the guise of an old, grey-cloaked man. The second, the Veritable Jesuit Coercion of Hell, is not actually linked to the Jesuits, as you’ve probably guessed, but a magical operation to call the spirit Tarafael to bring up treasure from the depths. The third, Arcanum Experientia Praetiosum, is geared toward a dream incubation rite, such as those for the spirit Balancus in Oberon. A key part of this is creating a spirit sigil which is placed under the window and then beaten with a rod while calling upon the archangel Michael until the spirit performs one’s bidding. All four total about seventy pages of text.

I haven’t had time to check the translation at any length, but if you want to compare, Álvarez places the German text in an appendix.  Overall, the book is attractive and thorough in presentation, although the text might have benefited from another once-over – and my copy could have used a little more packing material.

I don’t want to leave this on a negative note, however. You’ve got four texts here that have never been translated into English before, one of which has not been published before now, to my knowledge. This constitutes a great new resource for anyone who collects grimoires, especially those who are fascinated in Faustian magic in particular. If either of those describes you, you should definitely send some money to Mexico for this one.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment