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  

Review – Faust’s Key of Necromancy,

Enodia Press of Mexico has continued to put out many editions of the German literature attributed to the magician Faust, much of it translated into English for the first time. The most recent of these is a two-part work, the Key of Necromancy, Volume 1 and Volume 2. (Volume 1 is currently out of stock.)

The Key is derived from three different works, likely of the eighteenth century: the Nigromantisches Kunst-Buch,  Der Schlüssel vom der Zwange der Höllen, and Cornell’s 4620 Bc. MS. 19. Content from the three of them has been melded together to make a single text, although variants are noted – especially in the spirit lists, which we’ll certainly get to.

A few notes on the physical books. The first volume is bound in red, and the second in black. Both are impressive, but it’s unusual to bind a two-volume work as such. The first volume often does not indent or space between paragraphs, which makes it slightly harder to read. This is rectified in the second volume, and perhaps this will be corrected if the first volume is re-released.

The first book begins with a brief introduction that delves into the spirituality of the magician, with special emphasis on alchemy.  I’m somewhat skeptical about how much our present-day emphasis on the spiritual qualities of alchemy really carries over into the era in question. Certainly, I’d like to see it better supported than what’s been done here – then again, that’s not what it’s here for, right?

The first of the two books is a single long operation, requiring the consecration of the book, a magical rod, and other tools, along with a circle and multiple conjurations. This is mostly complete, although what constitute the sigils of Solomon are not clear in any of the books consulted. The overall goal of the operation is to call a spirit into a bottle to be questioned, and also to gain control over two subsidiary spirits who can perform rituals at their superior’s direction.

If part of the thesis of your experiment is to trap a spirit in a bottle where it can’t do much, you’re going to want a good selection of spirits to summon. This is an interesting list, because it starts very similar to the list popularized in the Book of Oberon – three kings (Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Satan), then four kings corresponding to the directions, and then subsidiary spirits with different functions. Nonetheless, the list itself diverges quite a bit from Oberon, and it also includes sigils for many of the spirits. This is the section that includes the greatest reassembly of material from all of the manuscripts.

The second book is devoted to a selection of shorter miscellaneous rituals. There’s a conjuration of treasure to come to the magician, with minimal involvement from other spirits. A conjuration of the spirit Waran or Floron invokes not only with the names of God, but by seasons, landscape, flora, and fauna as well. The magician can create candles for mystical operations, or speak to the spirit Sybilla (which is labeled as male in the original German and female in this book). I regret that the operation for the pygmies wasn’t included as well, even if it is present in Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis. Still, those who like these shorter operations should be very happy with the book.

The books are also provided with explanatory endnotes – though not always as comprehensive as I would like – and bibliographies, but no index. The lack of a shared index or table of contents makes finding particular sections and operations somewhat unwieldy, which can be difficult when working with two volumes of nearly four hundred pages total. Also, to be clear, the German text is not provided, but if you check the links above, you can obtain most of it with little effort.

I wouldn’t say The Key of Necromancy was my choice for someone’s first Faustbook. (Come to think of it, having a ‘My First Faustbook’ board book for infants sounds like a horrible idea waiting for an enterprising publisher.) I’d say Magia naturalis et innaturalis or the Mightiest Sea-Serpent might be better selections in this regard. The content will be much appreciated by those who already have those volumes and wish to explore the Faustian tradition.

Unfortunately, the release of two volumes means that the overall price bumps up to $134 plus shipping, which seems quite expensive for what is presented. I’d like to see a combined edition at a cheaper price, but many collectors will be happy with this nonetheless.

Published in: on May 3, 2019 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 4

Over the past three installments, (part 1, part 2, part 3), we’ve discussed all the different aspects of the Golden Hoard edition of the Sibly Clavis. Now would I recommend it, especially with the Weiser Peterson-edited edition also released that might ? That’s an excellent question, especially as the retail price for both works is comparable.

Once again, I’ll reiterate my point about the binding – I hope the examples I’ve seen are anomalies. Beyond that…

Completists: You’re going to buy both anyway.

People interested in exploring the Key of Solomon tradition: It depends on what aspects you’re interested in, I suppose. Both of them are nineteenth-century examples created for a collector’s market, so you’re not going to get into any antecedents of the tradition. If you really want to examine all of the different aspects of the Key, you should have both texts – and both introductions – handy.

People interested in art and magic: Definitely the Golden Hoard edition.

People who want a greater amount of magical material: Golden Hoard again.

People interested in reading about nineteenth-century occultism: Both, as one may cover the gaps in the other.

People interested in magical diagrams: It may surprise you, but sometimes people interested in practicing magic read this blog. For those interested in practical applications, you’ll probably want the Weiser edition, with its easier-to-draw illustrations.

If you fall into multiple categories, I think you’ll have to make a choice. Or purchase both.

I hope this has helped. I’ve got a few other grimoires to write about, but my read of the Picatrix is going slowly at the moment. I think I may dip into The Key of Necromancy from Enodia Press next.

 

 

Published in: on April 24, 2019 at 7:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 3

In our last installment, I promised some thoughts on the Clavis’ introduction. Let’s begin with some personal observations.

Skinner and Clark note regarding The Book of Oberon that “[t]he name change from ‘Oberion’ to ‘Oberon” was a bit of artistic license by the publishers in an effort to make a Shakespearean connection.” (p. 304) This was actually a bit of literary sleight of hand on my part in order to make it clear that the book did include as a major draw rituals calling upon a spirit who was identified therein as the King of the Fairies and had a name very similar to Oberon. I wouldn’t have made the same call in other manuscripts including Oberion, in which his ties to the fairy realm are much more tenuous, as I’ve learned since. Plus, if I’d called it The Book of Oberion, I’d be getting constant messages from people on the Internet asking if it was a typo.

With regard to the list of Clavis manuscripts in both Peterson and Skinner and Clark, I should note that Skinner and Clark omit a manuscript included in Peterson that I eventually tracked down. Of course, I haven’t talked about that and they couldn’t have known that, but it does illustrate that a researcher into these manuscripts will want to have both works on hand for consultation.

Both of the above should not be held against the book, as the authors do not have access to my mind. What troubles me more some egregious errors perpetrated in the introduction. For example, Skinner and Clark discuss the Society of Esoteric Endeavour edition of the Clavis, the original of which bears the date 1868:

On this we are in agreement with Ben Fernee… who also believes this manuscript was more than likely commissioned by Denley… (p. 322)

I can’t speak for Ben, but Denley passed away in 1842, twenty-six years before the date the manuscript was copied.

Elsewhere, the introduction states that Abraham Yahuda’s Clavis, the gorgeous one reproduced within, “may have even been part of the Isaac Newton auction. We can only speculate at this time, but Newton’s manuscripts did contain texts on alchemy, so why not one on magic?” (p. 325) It’s not clear whether the implication is that Newton might have owned a manuscript transcribed approximately a century after his death; I certainly hope this refers to the collection.

We have another oddity in the discussion of the manuscript’s English sources. As readers may know, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) was re-released in 1665, well after his death, with additional magical procedures added by the publisher. Skinner and Clark provide a list of five items from that book, ending with the statement that “Scot would have been appalled.” Without any unholy necromancy, I can say that he definitely would not – everything on that list also appears in the 1584 edition.

I also find the material on Sibly to be problematic, based upon Susan Mitchell Sommers’ expensive but excellent work, The Siblys of London: A Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian Britain. Skinner and Clark do use it considerably, but sometimes particular points are elided over. For instance, Skinner and Clark mention how Sibly “adroitly and profitably used his knowledge of Masonic careers to further the career of a local politician” in Ipswich (p. 338). What is not stated is that Sibly started a Masonic charitable institution and absconded from town with the collected funds intended for the destitute. To me, this is a key point in Sibly’s life necessary for the assessment of his character.

A more troubling omission from the Clavis is Sommers’ take on Sibly as an author. Skinner and Clark state that the preface is “probably originally written by Sibley” (p. 281), that the translation of the Clavis “was done (or caused to be done) by Ebenezer Sibley” (p. 309), and the footnotes later in the transcript are often ascribed to him (e.g., pp. 400-1). Yet how much credit can we give Sibly for this book? Sommers provides the following important context:

A page-by-page analysis of the fourth part of An Illustration, as well as of two of his longer works, the 783-page Culpeper’s British Physician with its attached The Medical Part, and the nearly 400-page A Key to Physic suggests Sibly was actually the author of only a fraction of those 4,000 pages, perhaps as little [sic] 10 or 20 percent. Further, much of what is clearly original composition is transitional material, included to join more substantial borrowed sections. (p. 157)

So, let’s put some caveats on this. All of us acknowledge that Sibly did not write the Clavis – and neither did Solomon – and the material included in these manuscripts is clearly a compilation. We can’t really give him too hard a time for reprinting Culpepper, so perhaps that should be removed from Sommers’ assessment above. Still, Sommers found Ebenezer’s borrowing so pervasive that she dedicates an entire chapter of her work to just that topic.

I’d like to tie this together with my previous concerns about “Doctor Rudd.” To be clear, I see nothing inherently wrong with assuming Sibly had this Clavis translated and compiled, or that “Doctor Rudd” really did come up with the magical system in the Goetia appearing under his name. What is problematic is that work clearly taken from other sources appears under both author’s names, and that proponents of Rudd and Sibly rarely engage with such evidence when asserting their positions. Let’s talk about the borrowing in these cases, and then give reasons for or against whether it happened in the other material for which these authors take credit.

Next time – my recommendations.

Next time – my recommendations.

Published in: on April 13, 2019 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 2

Last time, we looked at the physical design and illustrations of the new Golden Hoard Clavis, in comparison with other publications of Clavis materials likely originating in John Denley’s shop. Next, we should cover the content, looking mainly at the Golden Hoard edition in comparison to Joseph Peterson’s Weiser edition.

The two books start out in quite a similar fashion. Following the prefaces, we have complete editions of the Clavis, with full instructions on how to consecrate planetary talismans with planetary timing, tools, circles, and incantations. Next come descriptions and illustrations of talismans for each of the seven planets, as well as spiritual experiments to summon Birto, Vassago, Agares, and Bealpharos. The Wheel of Wisdom is a chart of planetary correspondences, and both volumes add thereafter a copy of A Secret and Complete Book of Magic Science, a book that Hockley seems to have claimed credit for creating.

At this point, the manuscript reproduced in the Weiser edition ends, but the Golden Hoard version continues. We have a treatise on crystallomancy, which should be familiar to readers of The Rosicrucian Seer. We have two compilations of miscellaneous magical procedures, including the ever-popular raising of the spirit Oberion. This material often reflects what’s in the Experimentum – although it doesn’t cover everything therein. It certainly doesn’t follow the same order as the Experimentum, and we also see additional material, such as elaborate love talismans and a procedure to make a magical bell, added. It also adds a treatise on geomancy, probably taken from Heydon’s Theomagia, and some magical tables showing the correspondences of the numbers one through eight. The table for number nine is drawn but blank, raising some interesting questions as to the creation process for this book.

I hesitate to call this a more “complete” Clavis, as this implies a thematic unity which I think is not present here, but Skinner and Clark’s book contains a wonderful selection of occult treatises from material. If you regularly buy Teitan and Caduceus Books, much of it will be known to you already, but it still has items you won’t see elsewhere. If you aren’t in that position, this will catch you up on most of it.

Following this is the introduction, which is placed after the text for reasons that remain unclear to me. Skinner and Clark provide us with a commentary on each section of the manuscript. Next to be covered are brief notes on the French and English sources for the document, and then a more-or-less thorough list of the manuscripts discovered from the tradition.  This follows the same order as Peterson provides in the introduction to the Weiser edition, making it easy to see where further research has revealed more information on the same works. Biographies of Sibley, Denley, Robert Cross Smith (the first “Raphael”), Hockley, F. G. Irwin, and Robert Thomas Cross round it out.

I have several comments on this section, which will follow in my next installment.

 

Published in: on April 4, 2019 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Part 1

(Before I begin, it’s important to note a potential slight conflict of interest. I have tried from time to time to get one of the beautiful Sibly Claves – the one at the Senate House Library, from which my Experimentum was extracted – published. It’s never gotten beyond the “hey, I think this would be neat” phase with any publishers, but I’ll let readers decide whether this is important as the review progresses.)

Golden Hoard has just released its latest work, The Clavis or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic. The work is a reproduction of the National Library of Israel’s MS Yah. Var. 18, an early nineteenth-century Key of Solomon and product of the manuscript workshop of London bookseller John Denley. Previous editions, reproducing manuscripts from private collections, have been issued, one from Ben Fernee’s Caduceus Books, and the other from Weiser edited by Joseph Peterson. I’ve also published a segment of one of the more elaborate ones as the Experimentum.

In this review, I’ll be talking about what makes the Peterson and Golden Hoard editions different, and give an assessment of each. (I’ll set aside the Caduceus Books, as they are long out of print.)

First, though, we need to talk about the binding.

Josiah Bacon mentioned in the comments that his copy came with serious damage to the binding. Sadly, mine did as well, with the book block tearing away from the cover even before I opened the package. I was able to replace it through Amazon with a copy that is holding up better. I also looked at a copy at Enchantments in NYC that was in good shape. My recommendation is to check any copy before you purchase it in a store, or order from sellers who have clear return and replacement policies.

(Also, to be clear, my copy has the standard binding, and not the special leather-bound editions that are sold directly from Golden Hoard, which I have not seen.)

As for the art… this is a stunning book. The previous Keys published are visually impressive but still workmanlike, with the emphasis being on penmanship and accuracy. What the Golden Hoard edition presents instead is what must have been the deluxe version, with copious use of multicolored inks, elaborate illustrations to the point of gaudiness, and pages upon pages of additional content. We have two such manuscripts so far, the one at the National LIbrary of Israel and another in the Harry Price collection of the Senate House Library (the basis of the Experimentum).

I’m going to be reproducing (badly) some illustrations from different editions, to give you a better idea of what to look for. First, let’s look at “The Magic Ring” in the Weiser edition:

 

Weiser The Magic Ring Diagram

Here’s the same diagram in the Golden Hoard:

IMG_7219

Let’s look at the pentacle (actually a repurposed magic circle) for Friday, first from Weiser:

IMG_7215

Now from the Golden Hoard edition:

IMG_7216

You’ll note that the illustrations in the latter obscure the origin of the piece in a standard Heptameron-style magical circle, and that it is incorrectly labeled as being the seal from Thursday there. Thus, occasional inaccuracies worked into the deluxe edition.

How does this compare to the Senate House version – at least to what’s published in the Experimentum? Let’s take a look. Here’s the Knot of Hercules from Caduceus:

IMG_7222

And now from Golden Hoard:

IMG_7221

Yah. Var. 18 does appear to be in better condition, as you can see. Also, it’s not clear as to whether one of these is more “accurate” than the other, although the one from Experimentum does appear somewhat more like a traditional magical diagram.

Next time, we talk about the manuscript’s content.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Dan Reviews The Testament of Solomon – Recension C

Testament+of+Solomon+HBOver a decade ago, when I was doing more non-paid writing, I posted an entire series on the Testament of Solomon, breaking down different aspects of that famous work on demonology and spirit summoning approximately from the fourth century. I knew there were copies from later periods that included more magical material, but I lacked both access to them and the means to read the Greek. Now, Hadean Press has filled that gap with its edition of the Testament of Solomon: Recension C, in which Brian Johnson translates and contextualizes this particular manuscript sub-tradition.

What follows is based on a hardback review copy. It’s a handsome book, and it’s a shame there aren’t more – but you can still pick up a paperback edition.

For such a slim volume, there’s a great deal of material packed within. After David Rankine’s foreword, Johnson dives into the significance of the manuscript, the translation, and its context within Byzantine magic. This will likely be complex for people who are not already familiar with the Testament, but those who have a basic level of knowledge will find this material illuminating and helpful, as it sets this particular tradition in the broader context of the Testament while delving into what sets it apart.

Following this is the translation itself, taken from McCown’s edition of the Testament and supplemented with reference from Harley MS 5596, from the British Library, and Parisinus Graec. MS 2419, from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Johnson omits the material that’s appeared in other editions, such as that of Duling or those available online, in favor of concentrating on the text unique to this particular tradition. The Greek text does not appear with this; interested individuals are referred to the link above.

The centerpiece of that material is a lengthy spirit list, with fifty-two entries, similar to those you might be familiar with from the Goetia and the Book of Oberon. Each one is given the number of other spirits they control, their function, and their seals from both of the manuscripts. Given the interest in these lists, I think many readers will be keen on getting to these. On the other hand, they might be slightly disappointed that these lists don’t match up well with those from other sources – and that the sigils don’t even agree between the two manuscripts. All of these are annotated with detailed footnotes on the translation and the origin of various elements of the composite text.

The work concludes with representations of the Seals of Solomon and a brief note on the spirit Belet. The work has a bibliography, but no index.

I enjoyed this work. I think it would have been possible to scale up with the Greek text, the remainder of the Testament, or other elements, but the decision not to makes the work available sooner to readers in an affordable format. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Greek or Byzantine magic, or in spirit lists, and the low cost means it will be welcome to many readers interested in ritual magic from antiquity to the early modern period.

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Dan Reviews The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, found himself in a difficult situation. Swedish forces had captured and imprisoned his brother, the Archduke Maximilian. His freedom must be obtained at any cost. What he needed was an agent – a man of intelligence and skill, a master of secrets and covert action, perhaps even one who dabbled in the arts of magic. The emperor knew exactly the man for the job.

At this point, my readership is probably assuming that he sent for John Dee. In fact, it was Abraham Colorni, a Jewish polymath from Mantua whose biography forms a crucial part of Harvard lecturer Daniel Jütte’s work The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800.

As some of you may recall, Dee spent a great deal of effort trying to get an audience with the emperor, only to harangue him about his need to repent. As for Colorni, the emperor invited him to travel from Italy to Prague and set up a special meeting with him after a few weeks. Colorni spent three hours talking to the emperor about topics ranging from arquebuses to gambling, and never got around to mentioning the rescue of his brother.  The ambassador from Ferrara was appalled – and Colorni ended up with the emperor as his patron for the next nine years, as the archduke’s return was negotiated through diplomatic channels.

The overall focus of Jütte’s work is on the role of Jews in the “economy of secrets.” Today secrecy is usually viewed negatively, but at the time the possession and judicious revelation of secrets could bring an individual fame and fortune. Christian prejudice often endangered local Jewish populations and barred them from entry into particular professions, training, and status. Yet this prejudice came with a respect for the Jewish people as masters of secrets in many different realms, ranging from the economic to the technological to the magical. Particular Jews who were knowledgeable and savvy could combine this with training and talent to maneuver themselves into positions of authority and influence in the broader society – although a high profile brought danger due to both intrigue and anti-Semitism.

The Age of Secrecy does not dwell on any particular topic of Jewish expertise in depth, but instead it touches on their activity in a wide variety of fields – technology, espionage, alchemy, magic, etc. – that shows wide-ranging and impressive accomplishments in a world in which the dominant culture treated them with hate and mistrust. All of these are illustrated with enjoyable anecdotes gleaned from the work of other scholars and archival research.  My favorite was learning about Isaac Sanguineti, who repeatedly had run-ins with the Inquisition, as summoning Lilith was said to be his personal specialty.

Half of the book is about Abraham Colorni. If that names seems familiar, it’s due to his commission from the Duke of Mantua to translate the Clavicula Salomonis, or Key of Solomon, into Italian. We don’t get too many specifics on how this came about, but apparently Colorni was able to turn this to his advantage. By attaching himself to the reputation of Solomon, he was able to expand his own reputation and influence. For example, Jütte thinks it likely that the Key‘s magic to free prisoners might have directly led to the Emperor’s initial audience with Colorni. I’m pressed for time here, so I need to cut this off – which, for those who read the book, is a serious injustice to all of Colorni’s skills, ranging from engineering to prestidigitation to arms manufacturing.

The book ends with an emphasis on two key points. First, when considering the advances of human learning, we should look to the economy of secrets as well as to the universities and societies that emphasized openness of information while excluding key groups of individuals from their membership. Second, that the importance of research into Jewish intellectuals and inventors in Europe should not cause us to set aside their frequent explorations into magic, alchemy, and other topics still considered less reputable that they pursued alongside other areas of expertise.

In short, this is a great book, and you can probably find it for 75% off the cover price. If you’re interested in the history of magic in early modern Europe, or just want to learn more about how the Key of Solomon came down to us, this is a must.

 

Published in: on February 12, 2019 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Metaphysical Spiritual Philosophy: Discourses through the Magic Mirror

Teitan Press has just released its latest publication in its Hockley series, Metaphysical Spiritual Philosophy: Discourses through the Magic Mirror with Eltesmo and Emma Louisa Leigh, from the Manuscripts of Frederick Hockley.

As with other crystal-gazers from the annals of magic, Frederick Hockley made extensive use of scryers who would see spirits and report them. This collection reprints the work of two of these scryers. One was Emma Louisa Leigh, a young girl and family friend who made contact with a spirit known as the Crowned Angel, along with another known as Eltesmo. Emma died young, leaving Hockley to seek other seers. One of these was a Mrs. Lea, who allowed Hockley to reach out to Emma.

This book collects two spirit operations. The first is a lengthy spiritual treatise dictated by Emma from Eltesmo. The second are a series of conversations between Hockley and the now-spiritual Emma, in which they discuss the afterlife and Emma’s continued concerns about the material world. These are provided both as transcripts and as black and white facsimiles of the original texts.

Alan Thorogood provides his usual excellent introduction, in this case passing over the basics of Hockley’s life to delve into these particular scrying sessions and Hockley’s cosmology of the afterlife. The only omission that I noted was a discussion of the Hockley material at the Library of Congress, which includes a drawing of a talisman of Eltesmo that was sitting on my desk when I received the book.

If you’re familiar with the usual tropes and content of channeled and spiritually-received material, you have a good idea of what you’ll encounter here. Those seeking profound or revelatory material will be disappointed, but those who are interested in the history of either nineteenth-century magic or spiritual contact literature should seek out this work.

Published in: on December 27, 2018 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment