Black Lives Matter, Gaming, Various Book Releases

Generally, I don’t post about politics on Papers, as I assume most of you are here for other purposes. Yet even in this time of uncertainty, we are seeing a growing movement to reconsider histories and interpretations thereof, especially regarding the role of and mostly negative impact on people of color. Justice for all people is something we should all strive for, yet many of us have become adept at finding reasons not to do so.

Nonetheless, we live in a world that is indeed the product of long-term systemic inequities that impact every aspect of our life. For example, it was the vast sugar plantations of Jamaica that financed Sir Hans Sloane’s immense collecting which led to the creation of the British Museum and Library, which have become key resources for the study of the history of magic and the creation of modern ceremonial magic, with later effects on the religious and cultural movements that have arisen from this. Further, as I’ve reviewed my thought on the Simon Necronomicon recently, I’ve realized that I didn’t emphasize that one of the best-selling occult books of all time repeatedly treats the “Aryan race” as if it’s a legitimate concept.

I know some readers engage with magic, folklore, spirituality, science fiction and horror fandom, or roleplaying games as escapes from the everyday world, and that they don’t want to turn what they love into a culture wars battlefield. But it is already. In each one of these communities, I’ve encountered people with genuinely toxic beliefs – racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Nazism – who are intent on not just participating as fans, but expressing their ideology and perpetrating their symbolism within them. And many of these people are writers, artists, editors, and publishers, and thus people who have considerable ability to influence the field and disseminate their message. This drives away people who might be of historically disadvantaged groups that may also want to become fans and creators, thereby driving down the richness and creativity of these communities for reasons that have nothing to do with the passions leading most members to participate.

Some people have become increasingly concerned about “cancel culture,” and we should acknowledge that people can be mistaken in good faith and have the capacity to learn and change. Yet, at appropriate times, we should make it clear about where we ourselves stand on these issues, not for the sake of congratulating ourselves or seeking the approval of others, but to let people know that people of principle are present, are mindful of the community’s health, and will speak out if they see behavior that makes others unwelcome.

We have a couple of catchphrases that people use to dismiss such claims in a superficial manner, and I’ll probably get a couple in the comments. Yet if one stands for principles and equality, and it doesn’t affect what they say or do when it can help others – what good is it?

Now that you’ve sat through that – how about some book recommendations?

My strategy of waiting so long to review books that they go out of print has succeeded, at least once! By which I mean, Enodia Press has released Praxis Magica Faustiana (review here) as a paperback on Amazon.

One of the neat extras included in the Caduceus Bellhouse edition was a series of columns from the Liverpool Mercury from 1857 that dealt with detailed accounts of the spiritualists, crystal-gazers, and cunning folk of that time and place. S. R. Young has put these out as a short book, forming a rich collection of nineteenth-century magical practices and the public attitudes toward them.

Hadean has also released Issue 4 of the Conjure Codex, featuring articles on Michael Scot, the Books of Cyprian, and art projects inspired by the Picatrix decans, among others.

I’ve got two other posts in the works – probably some thoughts on The Gnome Manuscript from Troy Books, and a new edition of the Grand Grimoire. Both of them need some work before completion.

Published in: on July 11, 2020 at 10:53 am  Comments (2)  

Review: Praxis Magica Faustiana, Enodia Press

It’s time to return to the review pile, which again is so backed up that I’m reviewing a book no longer available from the publisher and comparing it to another such work. Nobody can’t say that Papers doesn’t give you your money’s worth.

In this case, the book is Enodia’s edition of the classic Faustian grimoire Praxis Magica Faustiana, also once available from Caduceus Books. (Note: I’ve published two books through Caduceus.) As I can’t show you either one of these, you might content yourself with the earliest known manuscript, Q 455 at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek , until another becomes available.

The Praxis Magica Faustiana is a short treatise, giving portions of a ritual for summoning a spirit within plates with a variety of mysterious images. The earliest copies dating to the mid- to late eighteenth century, later being included in Scheible’s compilations Das Kloster and the Doctor Faust’s Bucherschatz attributed to Faust. (My own semi-informed guess is that this was one of the short books put together as custom works for German collectors that later became part of the canon.) It is primarily known to readers of English through Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic, which notes an English-language manuscript sans most pictures copied by Herbert Irwin, which eventually ended up at the Cleveland Public Library (digitized here).

The Enodia edition is taken from the Scheible edition, as is the Caduceus – but not every edition of Scheible is created equal. Unfortunately, not all Scheible editions are created equally, especially when it comes to the vibrancy of the red included in the text. The image below, in which we see the Caduceus cover on the left and the Enodia on the right, gives some idea, although the lack of light on the right makes it look almost black and white. Having seen various copies of Das Kloster, I can say that the coloration can vary between bright red and muddy red-brown, so I wish Enodia had gone with a more vibrant selection.

That being said, the contents of both editions are similar – reproductions of the original plates, transcriptions and translations of the German and Latin text, and commentary. I won’t pass judgment on the Enodia’s German translations, but an initial appraisal of the Latin makes me wish it had undergone another examination before publication.

Both the Enodia and the Caduceus editions attempt an interpretation of the images within this book. I do believe that these images call out for interpretation – but I think the most necessary route to understanding them is an examination in the light of late eighteenth-century German iconography, with emphasis on parallels in the religious and alchemical imagery of the period.

It’s difficult for me to recommend a standalone edition of the Praxis, no matter which publisher. It’s a very thin book and not a great example of either Faustian magic or esoteric iconography – even before we overlook the second-hand markup. It’s a work I see as being for completists – grimoire completists, Faustiana completists, or esoteric art completists. In that case, this one’s for you, and I hope it comes back on the market soon.

Published in: on June 10, 2020 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Life, The Book of Four Wizards, Fairy Magic, Traditional Witchcraft, Magic Bowls, and Gaming

Still in lockdown, even though the region has opened up slightly. I don’t have a lot of a faith in our ability to deal with the opening responsibly, especially over a holiday weekend.

I’m continuing work on The Book of Four Wizards. I’ve spent some time delving into the Eye of Abraham, the classic charm to detect theft by hammering a nail into a drawn eye while saying an incantation, in response to which the thief cries out or has their eye water. I’ve got at least seven different examples of various lengths and taken from different sources. I sometimes wonder whether this is an expression of antiquarian interest, or an attempt to acquire different versions to ensure efficacy through comparison.

I’ve recorded a talk on fairy magic for Treadwell’s lecture series, so keep an eye out for that.

In the comments, Michael Craft asked whether I might review a book dealing with traditional witchcraft. Speaking generally, I try to avoid literature that attempts to recreate traditional European folk practice. When I have tried to read a book, or listen to a podcast, or otherwise engage with this material, I often struggle, because I can see the seams between materials, the rhetorical flourishes covering up questions, the proposed ideas that solidify into certainties, the use of outdated sources, the anachronistic usage of later ideas, the lack of footnotes, etc. etc.

I’m not saying that people cannot get spiritual fulfillment out of these texts, or that others can’t admire a recombination of elements of the past and present done through a compelling narrative or inspiring poetry or resonating prose or magical exploration. Yet, at the same time, I prefer to focus on history in an attempt to understand it, not to evoke or interpret it, and much of that involves unlearning the fundamentals of what today’s occultism teaches and seeking works that provide a framework for doing so. That sort of process doesn’t really accommodate itself to writing reviews of modern works that are chiefly desirable to people who are seeking something else in their literature. We certainly have better reviewers for that.

(EDIT: Just to be clear, this isn’t aimed at particular authors or paths, among which there might be those engaged in careful, thoughtful examination of historical evidence and conscious and admitted reconstruction. Yet this isn’t the norm.)

For those who find it useful or interesting or spiritually compelling to read more historical material – or who just put up with all of the above – you might appreciate Dan Levene’s A Corpus of Magic Bowls, available cheaply through Lulu. My copy came slightly banged up, and I’m not sure whether the black and white photographs were plates in the original, but it’s certainly worth the price.

I’m wrapping up my long-term Rules Cyclopedia campaign in the next few months. Pendragon is going strong, and I’m running a potentially short-term weekly Dungeon Crawl Classics game for some colleagues and friends during the shutdown. I’ve been enjoying the latter, for what it’s worth. DCC publisher Goodman Games also published a good number of Cthulhu scenarios back in the day that I reviewed here over the years. I can see why them tapping their DCC authors to write them was never compelling to me, as the design goals of the two are diametrically opposed. This is more light yet deadly gonzo stuff, which is perfect for particular groups.

Stay safe and healthy, as always.

Published in: on May 24, 2020 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oberon and Privacy, Podcasts, Hell Fire Update, and Various Methods of Divination

A happy Beltane or May Day, for those who celebrate either.

I presented on Folger V.b.26 (The Book of Oberon) at the University of Copenhagen Centre for Privacy Studies’ Practices of Privacy: Knowledge in the Making symposium. I’m looking forward to writing it up as an article and sharing it more broadly.

Along with my regular duties and avocations, I participated in a podcast on magical books for Treadwell’s, and a podcast on Averoigne for the People’s Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos. I hope to give you more links to other items soon.

Most of occult publishing seems to be on hold, due to the challenges of our present situation. If you do see an announcement of a publication in the grimoires field, please let me know in the comments.

About two weeks ago, Miskatonic Books posted that they will no longer be carrying books by the publisher Hell Fire Club. They don’t report having any trouble with HFC in their business arrangements, but they were becoming the focus for all of the queries from authors and purchasers who couldn’t get in touch with HFC themselves.

I have made considerable progress on Humberto Maggi’s translation of the Sufurino Cyprian, so that will likely be my next review.

I’ve spent some time working with a few items from Four Wizards – short rituals for divination using the psalter and key, the sieve and shears, and the bread and knives. I’ve yet to find good coverage for any of these – it’s more pulling together some mentions from different sources to see if I can figure out a general picture. Willy Braekman’s Middeleeuwse witte en zwarte magie in het Nederlands taalgebied (1997) is helpful, but it tends to concentrate on usage in the Netherlands. If anyone has seen a more comprehensive coverage of these with proper references, I’d love to hear about it.

Stay healthy, safe, and secure, everyone.



Published in: on May 1, 2020 at 7:59 pm  Comments (4)  

Staying at Home, Book of Four Wizards, Penn State Specials, New Esoteric Archives Documents

Still home, still well.

I wanted to make a few more comments on the last section of Douce 116 I talked about here – specifically the section on capturing animals using toxic substances – with regard to my previous discussion of Liber 420. Although one should be careful about extrapolating from a single example, I think this is compelling evidence that the reason that copyists were not omitting psychotropic substances from the grimoires because they were concerned about social censure.

I just finished the modernized version of the manuscript. Now comes a few enciphered passages, translations of the Latin, compiling the footnotes, writing the introduction, and probably making another trip in post-lockdown to the area I think it was composed to see what I can find. Nothing major, right?

If you’ve been thinking about getting some Penn State Magic in History books but balked at the price, this is a good time to check again. Some are unavailable, but others are available a bit cheaper. For example, Making Magic in Elizabethan England by  Frank Klaassen (my review here) has dropped to $19.99 in some e-book formats, which is very nice.

If you’re strapped and looking for new magical material, Joe Peterson comes through for us again. Mihai has collated his blog posts into a single document detailing The Book of the Seven Rings of the Planets of Messalah. He’s also got a new transcribed version – albeit in Latin – of the famous Key of Solomon version known as the Zecorbeni, taken from the Bodleian MS. Aubrey 24. This is particularly welcome to me, as I photographed the rest of that manuscript’s contents the last time I was at Oxford.

Once again, I hope you are well, safe, and secure.



Published in: on April 17, 2020 at 1:50 pm  Comments (2)  

Quick Stay-at-Home Update, Fishing Lore, and the Rings of Messalah

Still home and healthy.

I’m still working on Douce 116, The Book of Four Wizards. I’ve come to the section of the book that includes recipes for creating different sorts of fish bait, capturing birds, and the like. For those who are curious, this seems to be the section that is biggest on the incorporation of cannabis, belladonna, and other rites. I’d love to find the origin for this section, but I’m not optimistic; I can find some similar recipes, but nothing that serves as a template, or where I can find multiple examples in the same order. That might help me to narrow down the time frame of the original author, though, so I’ll give it a shot and see where it goes.

Mihai Vartejaru is working on a comparison of different manuscripts that contain a magical treatise called the Rings of Messalah, detailing rings to be made under the power of each planet. You can see this series on his blog.

Stay safe, everyone.

Published in: on April 4, 2020 at 12:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Update – COVID-19, Cypriana, Hadean, More Hadean, Ouroboros Special Offers

At this point, I am sequestered away from the world, an opportunity I sincerely hope all of you have been given. The future is unknown, but for now I am healthy, safe, and well-provisioned. May all of you be well, in all aspects of your life, in these uncertain times.

As a librarian, I should remind everyone to try to seek out reputable information in these times, and to refrain from sending on what is inaccurate.

Also, if you have ever found yourself saying, “I wish I had time to read these books / learn a language / write,” and you are secure enough to proceed with those plans, this might be the time. It’s hard to do those things when surrounded by stress, but it can also serve for a temporary escape.

I wish all of you the best, and I hope I will meet and speak with each one of you face to face someday when this is over.

Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 11:26 am  Comments (2)  

Just Released: An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke

The latest release from Scarlet Imprint is An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke, a work edited by blog-friends Phil Legard and Al Cummins, featuring an introduction by me. A quick intro from the website:

The magical experiments conducted by Elizabethan explorer, soldier and courtier Humphrey Gilbert, along with his scryer John Davis, during the spring of 1567 are notable for their forceful methods and stripped down Protestant ritual. The spirits are called into a ‘crystal stone’ by way of a large number of conjurations, charges, constraints, curses and bonds. The work includes the practical conjuration of Bleth, Aosal, Assassel (Azazel) and the four demon kings of the winds, namely Oriens, Amaimon, Paimon and Aegyn. It is evidently based on an older text or texts, adapted to the Protestant outlook of the period, and has also been supplemented with revelations and guidance received first-hand by Gilbert and Davis over the course of its composition. As such, the texts are a rare example of the poiesis, or coming-together, of a ritual magic book. The texts attest to the continuity of medieval ritual magic into the early modern period.

Visions is a record of visions in the crystal, detailing events which took place before, during and after the composition of the Excellent Booke. In the course of this work, the master – Humphrey Gilbert – and scryer – John Davis – converse with a wide-range of spirits as well as religious and occult personalities, including Assasel, Solomon, Roger Bacon, Cornelius Agrippa and four angelic evangelists. The pair experience a series of remarkable sights concealed behind the seven-keyholed door of the house of Solomon. On occasion the visions bled into the waking world in encounters with great demonic dogs and the physical manifestation of the prophet Job.

The Excellent Booke and Visions are, as Legard writes in his Preface, ‘unique documents of sixteenth century magical practice: ones that deserve to be widely read and studied by scholars and practitioners alike since they preserve a detailed account of both the making and the use of a grimoire.’ A book of particular note to those interested in Azazel, the fallen angel and necromantic traditions, students of the grimoires and the practical workings of dirty medieval magic.

There’s more – but I’ll let you go to the website and order it. I was sent a hardcover as my contributor’s copy, and it’s a large, handsome book.

Published in: on February 29, 2020 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  

Review – Ars Notoria: The Grimoire of Rapid Learning by Magic

Students haven’t changed much, at least in some respects. Those in western medieval Europe crowded into the universities of their day, went to lectures, stomped about drinking establishments, and approaching their studies with varying degrees of ability and dedication. As is the case today, some seek shortcuts to attaining knowledge – yet one route was available to the students of the time that has since been lost. A manual of mystical illustrations, or notae, and prayers provided a means for mastery of any topic in the curriculum, through study and devotion. So it was that the Ars Notoria became the most popular ritual magic work of the era. (For more on the topic, check here, and if you want to know the curious spiritual journey of one of its practitioners, see these books.)

As the medieval curriculum lost its significance, so did the Ars Notoria.  Robert Turner published his own English edition in 1657, but omitting the notae necessary for the Ars Notoria Coverpractice of the magic. More recent releases have included the critical edition from Julien Véronèse, although this reproduces only a few notae, and mostly in black and white. We’ve also seen the annotated copy of Hockley’s edition published by Teitan five years ago. Now we have a truly impressive work, with a few flaws – Skinner and Clark’s edition of the Ars Notoria: The Grimoire of Rapid Learning by Magic. (It should be noted that this is Volume 1 of 2.)

Let’s unpack what’s inside the book. We have a lengthy introduction detailing the history of the Ars Notoria, from its potential origins to the cultural context to the many editions that have appeared since. Next come biographies of many figures, including the putative authors, copyists, publishers, and scribes of the work (although John of Morigny is not mentioned in this section). We have an amazing amount of detail on the major manuscripts and their backgrounds, including detailed tables on the manuscripts, as well as the notae and the prayers. There’s also a brief section laying out the proper procedures for using the notae as a practical experiment.

What is most impressive about the book, however, are the illustrations. Not only do we have a full-color reproduction of one particular manuscript, Yale Beinecke Mellon 1, but also the same for the notae taken from four different manuscripts, that can be employed for the purposes of pursuing all manner of learning for various topics, along with some other minor magical operations.

There is a great deal to like about this book, yet I do have concerns on two points. First, there are times when Skinner seems to narrow down a range of possible interpretations to one. For example, when we discuss the Ars Notoria‘s putative author, Euclid. We have a few choices of whom this could be: the famous mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, the Socratic philosopher Euclid of Megara, and Euclid of Thebes, the father of the supposed author of the magical work Sworn Book of Honorius, according to that book’s introduction

Now, “Euclid of Thebes” doesn’t appear as an author in any of the Ars Notoria manuscripts that Skinner and Clark have compiled. Where Euclid of Thebes does appear is in the introduction to the Sworn Book, which is problematic for two reasons. First, the Sworn Book appears later than the Ars Notoria, and in fact derives many of its prayers from that work. Second, the introduction to the Sworn Book contains some fairly unusual statements, such as the pope’s corruption by demonic forces, and how 811 magicians met in Thebes to encourage Honorius, with the aid of the angel Hocroel, to write that text. In other words, this is a text with a particular purpose and agenda, which makes a straightforward reading as a piece of history problematic.

Skinner himself recognizes this and states he thinks it unlikely that a “Euclid of Thebes” actually wrote the book – yet both the footnotes and the index both gloss any in-text reference to the Ars Notoria‘s “Euclid” as “Euclid of Thebes,” which confuses the matter considerably.

Another problematic item, from my perspective, is Skinner’s link between two particular notae and two inverted Medusa heads found at the bottom of a cistern in Constantinople. I’ll put up the images of one of each here:

According to the introduction:

These columns in the cistern of Constantinople are so unique that it is very likely that the person using this image to design two of the notae was a native of Constantinople, and familiar with this particular cistern.

Here are somequestion:

  1. Was this sculpture at the bottom of a municipal cistern, which probably was filled with water in this era? If so, how familiar would the authors of the Ars Notoria have been with it?
  2. If the authors were indeed familiar with the sculpture, what accounts for the ears, fur, and other animalistic features not present on it?  Could another explanation be that the depiction on the right might have a link to art showing the medieval concept of the Hellmouth, for instance?

These assertions are a tiny fraction of a book that has much to recommend it, yet they are important. A huge barrier to our understanding of the grimoires – and to their acceptance in the broader culture – has always been their blatantly false and ridiculous attributions of authors, dates, places, etc., to their contents. When we read, edit, and publish these books, I think we have an obligation to engage with these questions and explain why we take a position, rather than making assertions that run the risk of replacing one myth with another.

My other concern about the text is the transcription and translation to use. I recently reviewed the Opuscula Cypriani, and its archival documents followed what I feel is the standard in dealing with such texts: we get a facsimile, followed with a transcription thereof, and a translation of that. What this Ars Notoria presents, however, is the Latin text from Agrippa’s Opera omnia (c. 1620) and Turner’s English translation of 1657, both of which are late texts differing in order and content from the medieval texts closer to the source. There’s probably a story to account for how exactly the authors made this unusual decision, but it’s not provided in this work.

A final minor note: the biographical sections could use more footnotes. For instance, I’d love to know if the section on Sir Hans Sloane was informed by Delbourgo’s biography Collecting the World.

Is this Ars Notoria worth picking up? I can see two points against it. The first is the high price point, which is to be expected for a large book with color illustrations from a small press. The second is its specialized nature; a four-month series of devotions undertaken to master the medieval university curriculum may not interest many readers today. Yet for those who find that appealing will appreciate this work, as it is arguably the first accessible and complete published edition of this important medieval text .

Published in: on February 22, 2020 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Review: The Black Pullet (Black Letter Press Edition)

During Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, a French soldier sent to survey the pyramids fell victim to an ambush. An old man emerged from a secret door to rescue him, bringing him inside and initiating him into the secrets of occult philosophy. By making colorful talismans and magical rings, all manner of powers could be obtained – and a black chicken could find one buried treasure galore. The old man died after admonishing the soldier that only the most virtuous might obtain this art. The soldier returned to France, and apparently decided to publish the exalted art in cheap chapbooks for a popular audience.

The Red Dragon and Black Pullet from Black Letter PressSo goes La Poule Noir, or The Black Pullet, an early nineteenth-century book capitalizing on the European craze with Egyptian culture to legitimize its magic. We’ve seen various English translations of the book, with this one from Italy’s Black Letter Press being one of the most handsome.

I should state that this press also produced an edition of The Red Dragon, and I’d send you to that review for some important caveats regarding this work and its editor.

The book is a pleasant small work with cloth binding and bookmark. I usually don’t discuss the binding, as I feel that often distracts from the content. In this particular case, though, the design of black text on a dark purple background leads to a book that is more dull in appearance and, along with its size, could easy get lost on a bookshelf. Given the expertise displayed here, I think Black Letter won’t make this mistake again, though.

As for the text itself, it begins with an introduction by the editor Paul Summers Young, which is a nice mix of the scholarly and the entertaining – but I’ll get back to this in a moment.  The translation of the book follows, generally with each talisman and ring pair receiving its own illustration. Young also supplements this with additional material taken from the Black Pullet‘s sister text, Le Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides, or The Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids, that expands and provides helpful instructions for using the talismans within, along with a reading/advertising list at the end of that text, followed by an extract from Le Comte de Gabalis. (Although advertised as such on the website, it does not include Le Chouette Noir, or The Black Screech-Owl.)

Overall, this edition is very much geared toward collectors who want a nicely-bound edition of the classic grimoire in an English translation (which I should add I do not feel qualified to judge). You won’t find any notes, or the French text, or a bibliography.  Young states that he assembled the book out of three different texts and gives general indications of what sort of work he’s done in the introduction, including that some sections have been truncated. On the other hand, he gives no indication of what editions were used to assemble it, which I think should be an expectation for any published grimoire going forward.

Don’t get me wrong on this last point – there is certainly a market for editions of books that are good quality reprints of classic books that are available in many cheaper editions. Yet I think that this book could reach beyond that to appeal to those who want better-quality content, and doing so would take little effort beyond what has already been expended here.


Published in: on January 28, 2020 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment