Jesus Talking with Cows, Fairies, and Fake Princesses: A General Update

  • I’m still working my way through Svartkonstbocker, my next book for review according to Twitter. Manuscript 9 has a number of interesting narratives in it about corpse-belts for shapechanging, along with a number of charms in which Jesus has conversations with cows about their issues.
  • Avalonia has put its book Faerie Queens, in which I have a chapter, on sale with free shipping for the month. Check it out!
  • Jesse and Pam did a great job with this year’s Occult Humanities Conference, and I’d like to thank Clifford Low for inviting me to the event and the after-parties. I’d suggest checking it out when it’s held again in two years.
  • I made a day trip to Kutztown to talk to Patrick Donmoyer at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center and do a bit of research. I might get a presentation out of it. If you’re in the area, check their opening hours and let them know you’re coming.
  • The Book of Three Wizards continues to attract my attention. Apparently one section of it was written by Olivia Serres, the artist an royal pretender who wrote for Raphael. I’m wondering if this material isn’t a separate hand from the rest of the book – so does that mean I’ve got four wizards?
Published in: on October 19, 2019 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not Living Up to His Bizarre and Crummy Principles: Update on Lamentations of the Flame Princess

While I’m reading this 650-page book for my next review, I might as well discuss the latest RPG controversy that surrounds one of my favorite games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

So, you might remember (read here) that I had decided some time ago, in light of James Raggi’s poor handling of its decision not to work with Zak S., to purchase no further products from Lamentations until they took steps to protect their employees in the future with a policy on dealing with sexual harassment.

The situation has developed in ways I hadn’t anticipated. After some silence from Lamentations, they released Zak Had Nothing To Do With This Book, a short adventure followed by an essay, at GenCon. Zak later took out the essay out and marketed the PDF on DriveThru. He changed the title, then DriveThru pulled it, then Raggi made the book private… It’s quite the saga. (No links for buying any of this.)

In the kerfuffle, I managed to get a used copy of the original print publication, temporarily suspending my “no-Lamentations” rule to get a better sense of the situation based on a piece that wasn’t seeing much circulation. Since then, Brent Jans has posted a good analysis quoting some of the key items from it – including Raggi’s assertions that he himself has been repeatedly accused of violence by women – so you don’t need to seek it out. I did want to concentrate on a few aspects of the piece that I think are crucial.

Here’s one statement of his that stood out for me:

Nevermind that it is a publisher’s job, one of their most important duties, to protect their talent and their work from attack, even if it is offensive to their personal sensibilities

This is certainly an odd statement. I’d certainly hope that the publishers I work with would defend the accessibility of my books, provided I adhered to the requirements of the contracts to ensure the integrity of the work, but I wouldn’t expect them to go beyond that, especially when it comes to wrongdoing – and especially when that wrongdoing impacts their work environment.

Further, Raggi leaves it unclear as to what happens when some of your creatives are running into problems created by another, which is very much a part of this situation.

Later, we come to Raggi’s defense of his principles. I want to quote some segments of what follows, because it’s an amazing act of mental gymnastics:

None of this is an attempt to persuade you to change your mind about Zak or convince you to ignore things you don’t want to ignore. Nobody is telling you to socialize with the man, online or off, or buy things from people you’d rather not buy from…

Oh who am I kidding? Yes, I am. Get over your damn selves[…]

Your opinion about Zak, and how your view of him affects your view of his work, is only personal. You have no right to enforce that personal opinion on other people, or to judge them if they have another opinion. You have no right to wipe the work of another human being, past, present, or future. You have no right to deny someone else their choice to engage with that work.

As a librarian, I care very much about censorship. As an author, I can say that it is an issue that has had some effect on my own writing. I also think that conflating censorship with not buying someone’s work, or telling others not to do so, or making judgments about other people, is intellectually dishonest and trivializes the very principles James claims to defend for his own purposes.

As the RPG community tries to adjust to a series of scandals, I’ve seen some bizarre statements, such as “you don’t have to buy the product, but it’s wrong to tell others to boycott it” or “deleting your PDFs is the same as censorship.” Yet in this day and age, the vast array of information resources available to us mean that you can publish their work easily and make it widely available. Sure, not being allowed to participate in a platform such as Amazon or Drivethru may certainly affect whether you can make money off it. People are thereafter free to buy or not buy your work, save it, delete it, or review it. They can even tell others to buy it, or not to buy it, or not to buy the works of people associated with it, because they disagree with your behavior or your politics.

Does that last piece seem wrong to you? It certainly can – but in a hobby in which people proclaim they don’t buy a book because “it has playable anthropomorphic ducks” or “I don’t like ascending/descending Armor Class”, it’s hard to fault them for not doing so over concerns about how that person treats other people, or how their politics may impact others.

Let’s get back to the present situation. How did Raggi’s principles play out?

I had just a few months before taken on my first actual employees, one full-time, and the same week the allegations went public I’d been approved for the last of a series of large loans intended to be used to expand the company. I was responsible for other peoples’ lives and I was leveraged to hell and back. I was in no position to make my own decisions, let alone put up any sort of fight over it. So, I had to announce that I would no longer work with Zak.

Despite all the finger-pointing and blame, the person who is most responsible for Raggi’s decision not to work with Zak is… Raggi. And his actions thereafter are baffling. There’s no moral calculus I can’t think of that leads to the statement, “I fired someone unfairly and violated my principles, but publishing a GenCon exclusive scenario will definitely make up for it.”

To be clear, I don’t think that Raggi not living up to his bizarre and crummy principles in this case is a problem. Perhaps it would be better for him to adopt a principle that employees and freelancers being treated appropriately is a key value, as it allows them to to their best work, and that dealing with concerns about such treatment in a fair and equitable way is important for a good working environment. At any rate, it’s too late now.

Based on what Raggi has written, I feel it’s time to change my stance on whether I’ll buy the game. Even the best sexual harassment policy would be pointless after a company CEO published a fictionalized defense of Zak and discussed his own supposed history with claims of false sexual harassment while dodging responsibility for any of this. So I’ll be looking for other talented creators to support.

Published in: on October 11, 2019 at 11:48 am  Comments (7)  

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  Comments (2)  

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)  

Swedish Black Books and NecronomiCon Appearances

This announcement from Revelore Press appeared this morning:

Svartkonstböker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition

by Dr Tom K Johnson
Folk Necromancy in Transmission Volume 4

ISBN: 978-1-947544-22-2; Sept 2019; ~650pp.

Svartkonstböker is a fully revised edition of Dr Johnson’s 2010 PhD Thesis Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, featuring a thorough, path-breaking study of the black arts book tradition in Sweden, as well as English translations of 35 Swedish black art books ranging from the 1690s to the 1940s, including over 1900 spells and a robust index.

The late Dr Johnson always wished that his work would see print publication in its entirety. Other publishers have offered to produce this work in two volumes, prioritizing the spells in the black art books over the scholarly apparatus that contextualizes them. Here Revelore presents the work in full, comprising over 650 pages of material. Minor errors from the PhD manuscript have been rectified, and archival images of the characters, sigils, and illustrations have been restored in high fidelity. This is the definitive source work for the Swedish magical corpus of black art books.

If this fulfills this mandate – and it should – it will be amazing. Both paperback and collector’s editions will be available. The paperback is priced at $50, but 650 pages makes it well worth it.

I will also be returning to NecronomiCon this year, and I’ll be on two panels. One is Delta Green based, Sunday at 9 AM. The other is a panel I’m moderating “On Gaming the Weird,” with Sandy Petersen, Kenneth Hite, Fiona Maeve Geist, Shane Ivey, and Badger McInnes. You can see the full schedule here.

Published in: on August 5, 2019 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Enodia Press, Books in Paperback, and Treadwell’s Appearance

Wow. I really missed posting for June and half of July. I should mention that I’m on sabbatical and moving around a bit.

The good thing about Enodia Press is that it makes German Faustian literature available in English translations. The bad thing about Enodia Press is that you’ve had to deal with the Mexican post office to get their books, with all that entails for shipping and a loose definition of “tracking.”

Fortunately, Nicolás Álvarez has decided to circumvent them by beginning to make Enodia Press books, starting with Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis, available in paperback through Amazon. In his email to his customers, he makes it clear that he was not able to keep the illustrations therein full color, but these are only one aspect of a fun and fascinating book.

In general, I’d encourage readers who’ve wanted one book or another and found it too expensive for their collections to double-check. I’m seeing a good number of such works being re-released in paperback at cheaper prices.

For those lucky enough to be near London, I’ll be presenting on “Summoning Spirits” at Treadwell’s the Friday after tomorrow. Come by and purchase / bring books to be signed.

Published in: on July 18, 2019 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  


Many things are afoot!

  • I’ve been working on the next manuscript for Llewellyn. I’ve done a first pass, save for a few pages I need to re-shoot, and now I’m running a double check on the original before I modernize the language.
  • We have an Indiegogo campaign for a new edition of the grimoire The Red Dragon. The Italian publisher, Black Letter Press, has fulfilled one previous crowdfunding effort, in case you’re interested.
  • Stephen Murtagh has released an Authentication of “The Secret Grimoire of Turiel.” Feel free to read it. I have two brief points. First, it’s probably not a great practice to reproduce most of the illustrations out of a recently-published book, even for purposes of scholarship, when a few would do. Second, proving that Turiel has a pedigree back to Hockley is not the same as proving that it was acquired from a priest in the Canary Islands in 1927.
  • The Glencairn Museum is putting on an exhibition by our friend Patrick Donmoyer on barn stars. Not making it to eastern PA any time soon? You can download the exhibit catalog for free here!
  • Apparently the PSU book for which I wrote an chapter on the Necronomicon, Magic in the Modern World, was released in paperback in December. Halving the price should make it accessible for more readers.
  • I bought The Witcher 3. Jury’s out as to whether this was a mistake. Also, I romanced Triss without meaning to.
  • I’ll in Europe, generally speaking, in July.
Published in: on May 25, 2019 at 6:38 pm  Comments (3)  

On Leaving Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I’ve got a book proposal to work on, a foreword to write, a stack of great books dealing with grimoires and folk magic to read. So, there’s nothing to be done than write a post about silly elf games, right?

I’ve been running an old-school D&D game for over three years now (for those interested, Rules Cyclopedia with Moldvay insertions). This is not perfect, so for some rules I’ve ported in rules and scenarios from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, a newer game that began as a weird fiction D&D clone supported with a great range of products. I’ve enjoyed many of their products from DriveThru, and a highlight from my occasional trips to NYC is to stop at the Compleat Strategist to pick up the latest print releases. In fact, my next session was going to start our adventurers through Frostbitten and Mutilated, an award-winning supplement written by Zak S., who has been a staple in the Old School Revival community for quite some time.

And then his ex-partner Mandy Morbid, along with others, came forward with some extremely troubling and disturbing allegations of sexual abuse and assault.

Recent years have made us much more aware of the treacherous world women have to move through, and the importance that we hear and support those who have experienced traumatic events. At the same time, we sometimes hear voices raising concerns about false accusations, even though these are a minuscule fraction of the accounts that we’re hearing. In this particular case, Zak’s “defense” contained a confession that he non-consensually strangled one of the women in question, so if anyone wanted to start that debate, it’s over.

(No, I’m not linking to him.)

We’ve had statements from Wizards of the Coast, GenCon, Contessa, DriveThruRPG, and Kenneth Hite, all disassociating themselves from him.

That brings us to Lamentations and its publisher, James Raggi IV, who published his response on Facebook. The fact that he didn’t link to it elsewhere on social media or fora is indicative of how problematic it is. I’ve made comments there, and I want to supplement them here.

In terms of business matters, I’m sympathetic to James’ position. Small presses often operate in a precarious world. The illness or death of a family member, the departure of a partner, a delay at the printer, a book that doesn’t meet expectations – all of these can create situations that can doom or seriously damage a business. Certainly, having your top four selling books (at least on DriveThru) associated with a confessed assailant is going to be a serious problem.

It’s also worth remembering that publishers have many constraints on them – contractual obligations to creators and distributors, customers to satisfy, inventory to move, bills to pay. All of these might prevent a business from making a clean break with a problematic creator.

Thus, I understood the business portion of James’ piece. The personal one is a dumpster fire. It ignores the seriousness and credibility of the accusations to focus solely on the impact on James and Zak, and the fact that Internet trolls might be happy about this (but are they ever, really?). It also provides language that some will read as providing support and cover for this sort of behavior, although James has tried to walk back some of that.

Given that all these people have made their choices, what is mine? Here’s where I am, and I’m certainly open to responses.

  • I have dipped into Zak S.’s writing from time to time for my games, as much of it is good. At this point, it goes to a dark corner of the shelves.
  • It occurs to me that I’m actually in a book with Zak – the anthology Petty Gods from some years ago. I didn’t even know he was in there, to be honest. I’ll commit to not working on projects with him in the future – but I wasn’t planning to, so there’s that.
  • Zak also edited Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart. Zak’s financial stake in the book has ended, and Patrick has had his own history of problems with Zak, so I have no qualms about using it. Plus, it’s brilliant.
  • I’m keeping the rest of my Lamentations collection, and I’ll make a decision about using or not using it as I go forward.
  • I have some small elements of Lamentations in my game – the specialist, skill system, rules on financial investments, and a few spells. They’ll probably stay for the time being, and be re-evaluated as time goes on.
  • I will not buy further Lamentations products, regardless of author.  I will reconsider this if and when the publisher commits to anti-harassment policies and standards. Yes, it’s a small press that deals mainly with freelancers and that makes games that are run without their supervision, so there are limits to what they can do. But what can be done, should.
  • I’ve offered to run Lamentations at previous conventions. I will not do so in the future. This may be a moot point, because I think many cons already were reluctant to do so, and many more probably will be now. In fact, let’s face it – these last two bullets might be moot in a few months, for all I know.

These are not necessarily the right decisions, and certainly not the right decisions for everyone, and they are certainly up for discussion. Let me know what you think.




Published in: on March 19, 2019 at 9:49 pm  Comments (7)  

New Books by Me!

I’ve heard that some authors actually use their blogs to promote their own books, instead of posting reviews and discussions of other people’s writing and occasional grouchy rants. Let’s try it out!Harms Angels Demons Spirits Cover

First, I somehow believed I’d posted about Of Angels, Demons, & Spirits, my edition of a 17th century book of magic from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, richly illustrated with magical diagrams, talismans, and other goodies redrawn from the original by James Clark. It also includes numerous footnotes, a historical introduction to Thomas Allen, notes on magic in the seventeenth century, and a brief description of the cosmology of spirits in the grimoires.


Also, I’ve just released a new slim book, Balloonists, Alchemists, and Astrologers of the Nineteenth Century: The Tale of George and Margaret Graham. I found I had a short work on the Grahams with no corresponding longer piece, so I worked with my friend Casey Hickey to turn it into a book worthy of the name. It’s got balloon accidents, secret societies, balloon accidents, ritual magic, appearances by Raphael and Hockley, and more balloon accidents! You can buy it now in paperback – it’s available through KDP, and it should be available in most Amazon markets.

Published in: on March 14, 2019 at 9:55 pm  Comments (3)