Oxford, A Cunning Man’s Book, Appropriated Art, Review Backlog, Magic Circle Thesis, and Other Topics of Interest

I made a quick trip to London and Oxford for the BSECS conference, and I had an enlightening and fun time. You know you’re in Oxford when you’re walking around town in the evening and see window after window open to reveal entire walls those floor-to-ceiling bookshelves – both in libraries and private residences. 

I saw some interesting manuscripts while on the road. One of them was Wellcome 3770, a work by John Parkins, the cunning man said to be Francis Barrett’s pupil. Some of the material within seems to come from Barrett’s scrying procedure published in The Flying Sorcerer, long after his death, so this seems likely. Most of the manuscript is in a personal shorthand, to which Parkins provides the key, and at least some of it is magical, as Parkins apparently didn’t think to come up with shorthand for “Tetragrammaton,” for some reason. It might be an interesting project for someone.

I picked up Shani Oates’ The Real World Art of Cunning Craft from Hell Fire Club Books. It seems to include, both on the cover and as chapter breaks, art from Mihai Vartejaru’s blog post on the Seals of Alcabitius. I can say this with some degree of confidence, as one of the labels for the seals exactly replicates the typos on the same label on Mihai’s blog. Mihai was unaware of this, and I haven’t heard anything from Hell Fire.

Al Cummins called to my attention M. J. de Bejier’s thesis on the elements of magical circles. It does not include the original illustrations, likely due to rights issues. It only covers five manuscripts, so I think of it less as a definitive study and more of a set of hypotheses that should be applied to other works containing magic circles.

Speaking of items I look forward to reading, I’ve accumulated quite the backlog of books to review. I’ll slowly work my way forward, although my present book and associated research takes precedence.

Published in: on January 18, 2020 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Review – Opuscula Cypriani: Variations on the Book of St. Cyprian and Related Literature

Saint Cyprian has become a fascinating figure for magicians from many different opuscula-cypriani-pb-mockupbackgrounds, and a spiritual patron for many of today’s practitioners. Given previous authors’ focus on Solomon as the wizard par excellence, and the linguistic barriers to correlating material on Cyprian from various traditions, our knowledge of the folklore and ritual practice surrounding him has been severely limited. Recent publications have done much to break down these barriers, with Hadean Press’ latest release, Opuscula Cypriani, or “Minor Works of Cyprian” being another welcome addition. The book will soon be available both in hardback and paperback; this review is based on a PDF of the hardback.

In the Opuscula, José Leitão return again to the Portuguese Cyprianic corpus that informed his previous releases, The Book of Saint Cyprian and The Immaterial Book of Cyprian. That one can fill up nearly a thousand pages with barely any overlap with other published material attributed to Cyprian certainly attests to the depth of the tradition. At the same time, however, it illustrates how trying to define any particular trait of “Cyprianic magic” is as perilous and likely as fruitless as trying to label a type of magic as “Solomonic.”

This will be more general impressions rather than an in-depth examination of the work, as 900+ pages is more than I care to read right now. Yet I’d like to talk about the general plan and the highlights.

The works begins with the earliest Cyprianic material Leitão can find from the region: extracts from the processes of the Portuguese Inquisition in which people were found to be using spells attributed to Cyprian. This is followed by one of the most significant works in the book, Universidade de Coimbra MS. 2559, a lengthy eighteenth-century collection of prayers attributed to Cyprian and employed to bring success at treasure hunting. Many of the items in this section include facsimiles of the original documents, along with both Portuguese and English texts for their contents.

In the middle of the book, Leitão gives us a lengthy description of the magic of Cyprian’s history in Portugal (he largely stays clear of the Spanish, Brazilian, and other traditions). He notes that the material from the manuscript editions is largely different from what appears in the later printed literature, and that the Lisbon tradition of the Book of Cyprian has mostly superseded the others presented here, likely due to the effects of successive regimes appropriating or denigrating the folk culture from which it sprang. On the way, we get a quick introduction to Portuguese political history and modern spirituality that I found very welcome.

Many different books attributed to Cyprian, or that seem to be adjacent to it, were published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much of the rest of the book is taken up with translations of such works, ranging in topic from lists of treasures to procedures for divination – physiognomy, cartomancy, and the like. This is the part with which I spent the least time – maybe ritual magic snobbery is showing through on my part – but I think those who wish to know more about folk magic will delight in it.

So, who else would enjoy this work? This is a tough question for me. I think its title as “Minor Works of Cyprian” is a good indicator of whether a potential buyer would like it, though those interested in folk magic of Iberia should also seek it out. Also, those who do not have Leitão’s Book of Cyprian should acquire that first before reading this one. At any rate, I hope to see more such volumes on Cyprian, possibly encompassing works from other countries that might give us more insight into the length and depth of this tradition.

Published in: on January 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Update: Tea Drunk, Grimoires Received, Writing Progress [?], Georgian Occult Book Collection Catalogues, Arthurian and Slavic Gaming, and Holiday Commercialism

I’m hiding out at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore in Ann Arbor, which has a great selection of books and a lovely tea room.

  • I’ve received an electronic copy of Jose Leitao’s Opuscula Cypriani, which will receive a quick semi-review soon. I just reviewed a 650-page book here, so I think making a thorough reading of a 900-page book would undo me. I’ll still report in on it.
  • Also arrived are the Black Letter Press edition of The Black Pullet, and the Golden Hoard edition of the Ars Notoria. I intend to get to both of them soon.
  • I’ve temporarily stopped correcting the text in Douce 116, in order to work on this presentation at the BSECS in January. I might base the whole piece on the title page of the book, which is surprisingly rich in content describing how Thomas Harrington, a late 18th century author, tried to legitimize a late 17th-century magical miscellany.
  • As for Harrington, I’ve paid for Harvard to digitize the catalog of the 1806 posthumous sale of his library of works on music, magic, ad witchcraft, among others. They’ve put it online, so you can see it as well.
  • I’m running Pendragon for a small group, including at least one Papers reader. Having reviewed my strengths as a game master, I think this is a very good system to my proclivity for enabling characters’ poor life choices. In Dungeons and Dragons, this generally leads to strife among characters and players; in Pendragon, it’s fun storytelling.
  • My Dungeons and Dragons game (Rules Cyclopedia) is coming to a close, with characters having ascended from first level to levels 8 and 9. We still have a couple of modules to tackle before we’re done.
  • I’m also working on and off on a pseudo-Slavic hexcrawl hack of 1981 Moldvay Basic/Expert D&D, with lots of which I’m not sure what to do with.
  • Here’s the obligatory link to a page of my books for sale. Also, the excellent Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present is now available in paperback for $41.
Published in: on December 21, 2019 at 8:52 pm  Comments (5)  

Midnight in the Desert Tonight

Join me tonight LIVE on Midnight in the Desert with Dave Schrader, 9pm – 12am Pacific Time (12am – 3am EST)!

I’ll be talking about Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits, and probably anything else that comes up.

You can call in from the US at 520-600-MITD, and listen at this link.

 

Published in: on December 17, 2019 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Palgrave Sale on Books about Magic

I’m almost done with my review of Johnson’s Svartkonstbocker, but I have an announcement for anyone who likes academic books of magic courtesy of Chas Clifton.

Until December 3, Palgrave has put all of its books on sale. Most of their titles should be on sale for $9.99 with free shipping – both physical copies and ebooks. As many of them will run you around $100 otherwise, this is a great deal. I believe the price in euros is similar for European readers. You can click on the link on the main site page for the code.

So, blog readers…

Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period, featuring my article on fairy magic? Was $119.99, now $9.99.

Bellingradt and Otto’s Magical Manuscripts in Early Modern Europe (my review)? Was $54.99, now $9.99.

Dillinger’s Magical Treasure Hunting in Europe and North America (my review)? Was $119.99, now $9.99.

Ohrvik’s Medicine, Magic and Art in Early Modern Norway, dealing with the “black art books” of that country (my review)? Was $99.99, now $9.99.

Chess and Newsom’s Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man (my review)? Drops from $69.99 to $9.99.

How about Davies and Matteoni’s Executing Magic in the Modern Era? That’s a trick question, because it’s open access, but you can get a print copy for $9.99 anyway.

I would also recommend Young’s A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity, Ostling’s Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits, and Hutton’s Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery, and Witchcraft in Christian Britain, The whole Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic series is probably worth a look, although at least one title is bugged so it’s not priced properly. 

I hope many of my readers are in a position to take advantage of this.

 

 

Published in: on November 22, 2019 at 11:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Three out of Four Ain’t Bad: The Book of Four Wizards Update

Still working on that review – but I have a small project update.

I went to NYC for a few days to engage in some intensive research and book work while apartment-sitting for a friend. I managed to finish up the double-check of the text, and I’ve started modernizing the writing. Last time, this took a month – I think it’ll take longer this time, given that the writing is more challenging and I’m working with more images.

I also got to do some research at the reading room of the NYPL. Special thanks to the kind people at the Pforzheimer Collection, who let in a stranger who arrived unannounced to view an Olivia Serres letter. I’m fairly confident now that she’s the fourth hand in the manuscript – and her contributions, once we set aside the early nineteenth-century poetry, do establish her as yet another individual interested in the practice of magic and alchemy.

In the meantime, I might have found another author. The manuscript features a few different divinatory items using numerology based on adding up values of the name of the querent. In one such place, an abbreviated name appears – and the best match for the numerological values seems to be “Thomas Harrington.” I initially thought this might be the work of the original 17th century author, but closer examination of the handwriting makes it more likely this is the late 18th century annotator.

I wasn’t hopeful about finding too much about Mr. Harrington, given how common his name was – until I ran a search in WorldCat. (This is generally a good practice for backgrounding anyone.) There I found a listing for A catalogue of the very rare and curious library of Dr. Thos. Harrington, decd. : comprising old songs, ballads, history, magic, witchcraft …, to be sold at auction by Thomas King Jr. at Covent Garden on May 20, 1806. Other publications of music from the late 18th century indicate that Harrington might have been local to Bury St. Edmunds.

Thanks to the help of Bobby Derie and Dave Goudsward, I’ve now seen a newspaper advertisement of the sale, which lists that the person is a “well-known collector” of, among other things, “magic, witchcraft, [and] astrology,” and who owned “curious manuscripts” on many topics. It’s not 100%, but I feel pretty good about pursuing this particular lead.

As to the 17th century original author – who knows?

Published in: on November 5, 2019 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Book of Three Wizards: A Brief Prospectus

One of my readers asked me if I could give him a summary of what my next project from Llewellyn will be. I quickly searched Papers in hope of giving him something that would quickly fulfill him, only to realize that I hadn’t actually written too much about the book here anyway. It’s time to correct that.

My latest project is a transcription of the Bodleian Library’s manuscript Douce 116, one of the more unusual ones I’ve encountered. Whereas you can find many of these manuscripts have been previously microfilmed or digitized, Douce 116 somehow made it with very little attention. One likely reason is that Francis Douce, the nineteenth-century librarian and antiquary who collected it, had only this work of magic in his collection, although he did collect other books on witchcraft and the like.

The main body of the book is a magical miscellany of the late seventeenth century, at the time when magic and astrology reached the heights of their popularity just before falling into disfavor in the following century. Likely written by a cunning person in Worcestershire (I’ll get into that in the introduction), it shows the influences of the magical publications of the mid-seventeenth century, including Agrippa, the Arbatel, and a likely reprint of the Discoverie of Witchcraft, while also displaying a keen interest in the lore still circulating in manuscripts.

A century later, the book fell into the hands of another occultist who did quite an amount of writing of his own in the book – paginating it (although he couldn’t keep that straight), annotating the other author’s sources (sometimes incorrectly), and filling the front, back, and blank spaces with all manner of mystical formulae and bits of wisdom.

After that, the book apparently passed into the hands of Robert Cross Smith, the first “Raphael,” who possessed it in 1825. He bound in a few pages of his own, including a reference to the president of the mysterious society of the Mercurii. Finally, the manuscript passes to Francis Douce, who upon his death in 1834 leaves it to the Bodleian.

I’m working on a second correction of the text right now, and James Clark will be handling the illustrations again. This will likely be a few years down the road before you catch a glimpse of it. While you wait for it, you might read a couple of my recent articles (available here and here) for which it served as an excellent source.

Please put your questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Published in: on October 2, 2019 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: The Red Dragon / Dragon Rouge

The winner of my recent Twitter poll for what review I should conduct next was the Black Letter Press edition of the Dragon Rouge, or Red Dragon, the successful outcome of the publisher’s recent IndieGogo campaign. According to the publisher’s website, the volume is sold out, although they’re taking pre-orders for an English translation of The Black Pullet, so this may simply be of interest for second-hand buyers.

If you want some background on this book, along with a comparison of other English editions, including the Grand Grimoire from Trident and the Red Dragon from Teitan, I’d suggest looking here.

Before I begin a review, I like to divulge any conflict of interest that I might have when it comes to a book. This is particularly difficult here, as the editor and translator, Paul Summers Young, was the former moderator of a Facebook group that I left due to what I viewed as his inappropriate language to other members, with the same being directed at me after I left. I personally don’t feel that it will affect the review, but you should aware of it as a possible influence.

Further, as I’ve admitted in the past, my French is nowhere near as good as it could be, but having an original text on hand is important when reviewing such a work. This is complicated due to the existence of several Dragon Rouge texts of various sorts in French. In the end, I looked quickly over the French Dragon Rouge text from Joe Peterson’s CD-ROM, which I recommend to anyone who hasn’t purchased it yet, and the Trident and Teitan Press editions.

(I also turned up this 1846 manuscript digitized from Porrentruy’s Bibliothèque Cantonale Jurassienne, N.C.1. It’s released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license, so have fun.)

First, let’s take a quick look at the cover:

Red Dragon

The brief introduction covers the history of the work and plays up the book’s status as a “work of outsider art”. If you want to learn what version of the book this is based upon:

This English translation aims to capture the tone and substance of the 2019 Black Letter Press Italian edition with close reference to the 1823-ish French edition, which is commonly spoken of as the earliest extant under the name ‘Red Dragon…’

I’m not sure how exactly to read this, but it sounds as if the primary source was the Italian translation rather than the French original, with the latter being checked as Young went. We’ll get back to this later.

The centerpieces of the Red Dragon, as with other editions, are two sets of procedures intended to bring the magician into a pact with a spirit – with the preferred one in both cases being Lucifuge Rofocale, one of the chief servants of Lucifer. The first one is more involved, including the creation of a magnetized “blasting rod” and a kid-skin circle, while the second does not require these accoutrements but provides fewer protections for the would-be magician.

The IndieGogo campaign page notes that much research was done to ensure that the Italian edition from which this was taken was “new and more complete,” Comparing this one to Peterson and the Teitan text, however, shows that the Black Letter edition is missing some of the short operations – such as the creation of the Hand of Glory in the French version, or the meeting with the three spirits at evening in the Italian. The work might have come from a text to which I don’t have access, or the editor may have taken elements from both texts and combined them. I’d be interested to know the answer.

We might be able to answer these questions if the book provided either the French or Italian texts, but neither are present. The text also lacks most of the rest of the other apparatuses some seek in these texts, such as bibliographies, notes, and translations for the Latin passages. I don’t think this will bother most readers, however.

As all three English translations are currently unavailable, that places them at about the same level of accessibility for potential buyers. Personally, I think that the Black Letter edition has the most impressive presentation, but I’d prefer the Teitan Press edition for its content, despite my concerns that the editor might actually be Simon. I think there’s certainly room for a publisher to come out with a beautiful critical edition of this text.

Published in: on September 26, 2019 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Making Magic in Elizabethan England

We’ve had some interesting grimoire releases over the past year, and I’ve been remiss in reviewing them. I’ll see what I can do to catch up, beginning with Frank Klaassen’s Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic, which is part of their Magic in History series. This is particularly welcome, as it is the first set of longer texts published by Klaassen, who is an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan and one of the few academics working on early modern magical texts.

The main body of the book consists of transcriptions of two books. The first, Bodleian MS. Additional B.1., is a late sixteenth-century text, with most of its contents being shorter charms dealing with healing, protection, and theft detection. The second, British Library Harley 2267, was completed in 1600 and includes more material about summoning spirits, synthesizing and expanding upon information from Agrippa’s Three Books, the spurious Fourth Book, the Heptameron, and other sources, all of which were not printed in English at the time.

The first text includes extensive passages in Latin, which are provided in columns with the translation thereto. The original spelling has been preserved, which will make the book more appealing to scholars and students but may make for a more difficult read for laymen. Each is extensively annotated – with endnotes, unfortunately, instead of footnotes which could be referred to at the same time as the text. The illustrations within the text are redrawn in the same way as my readers have seen in Oberon and Of Angels – even James’ choice of font seems to have been used here. Both works are prefaced with an insightful introduction and notes on the manuscript and followed with a table giving the sources of Harley 2267 and a bibliography.

I’d like to share with you one of the passages from the second text dealing with the terrifying illusions spirits will show the magician, which gives you as accurate a depiction of the text as WordPress options allow:

Also many tymes horribles sightes will apeare to feare ye from thy worke, as to see thy father or mother slayne afore thy face, or to thinke ye waues of the Sease shoulde droune the, Or Serpentes, lyons, bulles, beares, or dogges to deuour the, Sumtyme ye judge of mayor of ye Toune to cum vnto the, all which are but illusyons… (pp. 110-111)

I find the notes to be particularly illuminating, even though we are sometimes interested in different aspects. For example, Klaassen places more emphasis on the liturgical connections of the text, and I certainly feel this is a direction I want to pursue more in my future works.

On the other hand, he does not always emphasize the elements that I might. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but it’s worth noting. For example, the first manuscript begins with making two wax images for catching thieves – similar rituals appear in Of Angels and my new Bellhouse book. The introduction notes that this is probably adapted from astrological image magic works, to which I would add that it is quite a robust and enduring operation. Further, the rite includes the names of two suspected thieves, suggesting that the copyist (or that of a previous manuscript in the tradition) was oriented toward practice rather than simply curious.

I do have one reservation for recommending this book: the price. The work is $89.95 for 150 pages of content, so this is priced for libraries more than casual readers. Further, the use of parallel texts may mean that the work cannot be converted to a cheap e-book format, as was done with Klaassen’s previous work, The Transformations of Magic. I can certainly hope that a cheaper, paperback student edition will be available soon, so more people can appreciate just how good this work is.

 

Published in: on September 10, 2019 at 1:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Early September Wrap-Up

So, I’d like to get to a more regular blogging schedule. We’ll see if that holds.

  • NecronomiCon was great, as always. I had two enjoyable panels, one on Delta Green, and the other on horror in games, featuring Sandy Peterson (creator of Call of Cthulhu), Ken Hite (creator of Trail of Cthulhu), Shane Ivey (author of the Delta Green RPG), and a couple of other up and coming creators.

 

 

  • My work continues on The Book of Three Wizards. I’m double-checking the text and creating transcripts of the various diagrams for James. We hit a slow portion, due to the first author’s decision to incorporate some incredibly complex astrological charts, the import of which we’re still debating. There were over nine thousand separate elements I had to check for accuracy, but that’s past.

 

  • Did you know that Golden Hoard is releasing Daniel Clark and Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria soon?

 

 

  • Pam Grossman and William Kiesel of Ouroboros Press are presenting a seminar on “Collecting Grimoires, Spell Books, and Witchcraft Tomes” at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this Saturday at 2 PM.

 

More to come soon, I hope!

Published in: on September 3, 2019 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)