Return to the Necronomicon

After eight years, my article on the Simon Necronomicon, “Reviving Dead Names,” will appear in Penn State University Press’s anthology Magic in the Modern World. I have practically a full set of the Magic in History books, so it’s particularly nice to be a part of the series.

In a sense, this is a continuation of the work that went into The Necronomicon Files, describing the context of the Necronomicon‘s appearance in the NYC occult scene of the Seventies.  At the same time, it is not a debunking work – my sharp-eyed reviewers kept an eye out for that, so as not to blunt its impact – but a description of the numerous strategies used to legitimize the book’s original appearance, and a discussion of their efficacy, or lack thereof.  Olav Hammer’s Claiming Knowledge was invaluable in developing my arguments.

The curious part about the Necronomicon is its combination of high and consistent sales, with its relative lack of impact on the modern occult scene.  We have many works on witchcraft, magic, and similar topics that sold much less than Simon’s book, but which are more quoted and have had more of an impact on the spiritual marketplace. My article explores some potential reasons for the change.

Also, I got to keep the South Park endnote, which was key to the piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on December 21, 2016 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  

My Next Project

Given that I’ve announced it elsewhere, I might as well divulge it here.

I’m working on an edition of Bodleian Library’s manuscript e Musaeo 173.  e Mus. 173 is a short collection of magical operations, shorter than, but very much in line with, the magical miscellany published in The Book of Oberon.  It passed through the hands of Thomas Allen, a mathematician, astrologer, Catholic sympathizer, and purported magician of Oxford’s Gloucester Hall before being donated to the library.

The contracts are signed with Llewellyn, and James Clark is on board as our illustrator.

Right now, I’ve transcribed the document, modernized the English text, and inserted the red text.  I’m about halfway through an initial rough translation of the Latin text, which makes up a quarter of the manuscript.

The manuscript is due in a year, and I intend to put it to good use.

Please leave any questions or comments below.

Published in: on December 16, 2016 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Upcoming Release: Pandemonium, by Jake Stratton-Kent

Pre-orders are now open at Hadean Press for Jake Stratton-Kent’s latest book, Pandemonium: A Discordant Concordance of Diverse Spirit Catalogues.  A summary:

PANDEMONIUM by Jake Stratton-Kent is truly a first of its kind, and a necessity for the further development of traditional magic in a modern context. While not intended to be the last word, it opens up territory that demands further examination. It starts with the first English translation of a major spirit catalogue and ends with an appendix redefining ‘traditional’ grimoirists. Sandwiched between these is a comparative survey of several important spirit catalogues, which is much more than ‘a dictionary of demons’. Totally geared to emergent practice, leading us away from the prevalent focus on ‘tools and rules’, authors and manuscripts, towards a developing relationship with the dramatis personæ essential to the whole tradition.

In PANDEMONIUM Jake Stratton-Kent offers a comparative study of the spirits of Le Livre des Esperitz, the Grand Grimoire, the Book of Offices, the German Honorius, Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, the Goetia of Solomon, Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and more. In doing so he explores the Trinitas, the spirits of the seven days, the spirit council, the four Kings, eighteen-ness, the Long Text Group, and ghosts in the machine.

Published in: on December 5, 2016 at 9:28 am  Leave a Comment  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 5

We’re halfway through Day 3 of my excursion.

Leaving Carn Brea, I still had a packed day of travel.  My next stop was St. Mawnan near Falmouth, the site of the infamous Owlman sightings.  U. S. readers might connect this cryptid with Mothman.  This is inaccurate, as the Owlman story has magical ceremonies and sea monsters and naked witches, and is almost certainly a hoax concocted by one person.  Anyway, here’s the church itself:

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The Owlman – and the associated sea monster, Morgawr – had been supposedly sighted past the church, down the steep hillside that led to the rocky cliffs above the bay.  I decided to take a quick walk and take a look.  In case anyone is curious, here’s the terrain in question.

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I did not take a picture of the church organist, who was quite insistent that I leave his unmarked parking spot so he could take part in an upcoming wedding rehearsal.

I love fogous, the underground stone passages dating back thousands of years.  Only a few survive in Cornwall.  I tried to find the Piskie’s Fogou, with its links to fairy lore, but I had no luck in finding any parking nearby.  I had better luck trying to track down Halligye, which is on a National Trust estate.  It’s closed in the off season for bat hibernation, but in the summer it’s easily accessed – once you find it.

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This is an interior shot.  The passage is really quite long  and muddy – I recommend both shoes and pants you don’t care about, if you want to get the full experience.

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My final scheduled stop for the day was Pengersick Castle in Praa Sands.  I’d go into the legend about this place, but it’s way too long.  Suffice to say, it’s got a wizard and a magic sword and pirates and mermaids and phantom hares and a woman who turns into a snake.  It’s a private residence, so I contented myself with a photo from the road.

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Where to now?  I had sworn to avoid West Penwith – the very tip of Cornwall – this trip, as I always go to West Penwith, but I still had daylight left.  I chose two sites.  The first was the holy well at Madron, where people traditionally tied clouties to nearby trees to cure them of their ills.

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Finally, I tracked down back roads, risking life and limb to uncover the stones at Mên-an-Tol.  I finally found the site and hiked down an overgrown farmer’s track to find it, only to find the monolithic site to be hosting a father-and-son Nerf gun battle.  They departed soon, and I had a few minutes alone with the stones.

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It was getting late, so I drove quickly through the witch-haunted hills, past mermaid-sheltering Zennor and the cottage where Crowley supposedly drove someone mad but probably didn’t, and made it back to Truro in time to drop off the car and catch the train back to St. Austell.

I had a small excursion to a holy well the following morning – but I think I’m going to leave this right here.  Cornwall is a fun place to visit, and I’m already thinking about where I want to go  the next time.

 

Published in: on December 2, 2016 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Interview on The Thinker’s Garden

I recently did an email interview for the site The Thinker’s Garden, which has recently been posted.

In case you needed another incentive, I also dropped some news there about my next contractual project…

Published in: on November 19, 2016 at 6:26 pm  Comments (1)  

Cyprian and Faust – New Books

I’ve been working a great deal on my next project, so most of my energy has gone into that rather than blogging.  We have two new books – one released, one upcoming – which should be of interest to Papers readers.

The first is a new release from Rubedo Press, Cypriana: Old World, which is devoted to the magician-turned-saint whose devotion has seen a revival among many magical practitioners recently.  We have articles by Al Cummins, Jesse Hathaway, José Leitão, and others dealing with Cyprian, stretching from Antioch to Iberia to Scandinavia.  (Full disclosure: I was invited to contribute, but I couldn’t get something ready in time.  I’m very much enjoying what I’ve read so far, though.)

The second is an Indiegogo campaign for A Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic, new translations of six books from the Faustian tradition from Enodia Press, released in hardback.  The project has already funded, so you should be good to go if you’d like to order it.

That’s all for now!

Published in: on October 14, 2016 at 1:35 pm  Comments (5)  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 4

So last time, I came to the end of my first of two days with a car.   On my second day, I decided to roam about a bit more.

My first stop was the ruined chapel at Roche Rock.  It’s an interesting trip.  You’re driving around in a small town, going into small subdivisions and passing through a tiny town center.  You drive down a side road and suddenly see this:

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Roche Rock bears a ruined chapel to St. Michael the Archangel, built in the fifteenth century.  It is said that Tregeagle, the reputed ghost, wizard, and giant, once cheated the hounds of Hell by sticking his head through the small window you can see in the wall of the chapel, so he had holy sanctuary.

The next site was the spectacular hilltop of Carn Brea, just outside Redruth.  It does have some Neolithic and Iron Age sites, but most of those are well overgrown.  Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile for two reasons.  The first is the impressive rock formations that loom over the landscape, such as the Giant’s Head.

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The second are two follies, monuments erected by the rich for their amusement or to keep the local people occupied.  The first of these is the Bassett Monument at the top of the hill, erected in 1836 by public subscription in honor of Baron Francis Basset.

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The second is Carn Brea Castle, also erected by the Basset family on the former site of a chapel.  There’s supposed to be a great Jordanian restaurant there, but apparently it’s only open by appointment and for at least four guests.  (Something to arrange in advance for my next trip, perhaps?)

 

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I spent some time hiking around on the top of the hill, taking in the gorgeous views, before I decided to head to other sites later that day.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 12:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Review: The Infernal Dictionary

Having looked at the False Hierarchy of Demons from Abracax House, we turn to their publication of the Infernal Dictionary (link via Amazon).  I believe this is now out of print, but I managed to get a copy of it at Treadwell’s before leaving England.  I think it’s fair to note that I did pay a good price for it – though well below that listed on Amazon – and hauled it back in my suitcase for England, which might affect my review.

The Dictionnaire Infernal by Collin de Plancy, with different editions released from 1818 to 1863, is perhaps one of the most famous reference works of the occult.  I discussed it in my Spirits in the Library posts, and I’ve wanted to see a full – not partial – translation from the French for some time now.  Thus, I was happy to see the Abracax edition, especially since I missed the initial print run.

The publication is an attractive two-volume work, slipcased and bound in imitation leather.  We have not only translations of de Plancy’s original articles, but also reproductions of the original woodcuts, footnotes – both those of de Plancy and the editors – the texts of the various introductions to the book over its history, the approval of the bishop of Paris, a biography of de Plancy, an index, and other items.  Many of the demons are illustrated in full color by modern artists.  This does make for a magnificent book.

Nonetheless, this comes with a few caveats.  We are not given the French text, although this is readily available online.  I have a greater concern:  the editors’ decision to update and correct the text along with the rest of the process.

I can understand the impulse that compelled them to make the decision, Nonetheless – and I speak here as an author of an encyclopedia – simply updating the entries in a reference book, without also considering the shape of the work, what entries should be added and deleted, etc., is not really a sufficient way to update a work.  Further, the places where changes have been made do not seem to have been noted consistently.

To me, there are two options with a work such as this.  One of these is to build upon the previous one, revising the whole, adding and subtracting and rethinking until it becomes a fully modernized work.  The other is to preserve the original as closely as possible, with some modernizations in terms of spelling and arrangements, to bring a work that provides us with insights into a particular time and place to today’s readers.  To be clear, this would be my preference.

For me, the Infernal Dictionary ends up being a book that fulfills neither of these potential purposes.  I’m reluctant to say so, because the editors did a great deal of work to make the book the way it was.  I’m also aware of how sometimes you make an editorial  decision with a book that is nigh-on irrevocable, simply because it’s so much work to go back and change, and I wonder if that was ever the case here.

Nonetheless, this book has many admirable qualities that should not be overlooked.  Is it worth $180?  Those interested in an artisanal book to grace their shelves will likely find it so.  If you can read French, there are many cheap untranslated copies available in print or online that you can consult.  As a reference work, I wish it could have been less expensive – although you could say the same for many of the expensive reference works for sale by much larger publishers.  What works for your collection?

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 3

Last entry, I was driving around to Tintagel and the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall.  How was the rest of the day?

I had considered visiting St. Nectan’s Glen, a famous Cornish holy spring, but I couldn’t locate it on my GPS.  I had, however, seen a sign for it between Tintagel and Boscastle, so I backtracked to the spot.

St. Nectan’s Glen is not on the road – in fact, it turns out it’s about a mile off, down a country lane, between tall hedges overgrown with wildflowers, and onto a path that winds through the bottom of a wooded valley, alongside a whispering stream.  After about a mile, you come to a charming tea room with a deck where you can relax.  Then, after paying admission, you make your way down into the glen itself, coming out at a water fountain behind a quiet pool.

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Those who have come before have left offerings of clouties, small pieces of cloth tied around trees that represent wishes or desires for healing.   Originally, they were only features at the healing well at Madron, but they have been adopted as devotional elements at many other Cornish sites.

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It was a lovely experience, even though a little rain and more mud were less than ideal.

Having walked back, I decided to head to my last site of the day.  On the way, however, I came across the town of Camelford.  Just as Tintagel is believed to be the site of King Arthur’s conception, Camelford is, according to local legend, the site of the king’s final battle against Mordred.  I ran into the visitor center at the last minute before it closed, and they allowed me to walk along the trail to see the site.

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The site, known as Slaughterbridge, has a stone dating back to the sixth century, which is said to mark the fall of Arthur.  Later scholars have read it differently, but it’s there for anyone who wishes to see it:

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I drove for quite some distance afterward until I arrived at Minions – not the movie, the town on Bodmin Moor.  One notable feature of Cornwall is that sites that US parks would surround with guardrails and carefully-cropped lawns are filled with animals, like this sheep wandering across the parking lot.

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I was there to see the Hurlers, three small stone circles set north to south with a prominent causeway between them.  I like finding small megalithic sites, away from tourists, that I can explore.

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I also managed to find Rillaton Barrow, a nearby Bronze Age tomb, just by happening to wander across the moors.

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Here’s a view of the horizon, with the odd stone formation called the Cheesewring peeking out of that ridge.

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So, that was the first of two days with a car.  How could I get myself in trouble next?

Published in: on August 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Review: The False Hierarchy of Demons

Today’s offering is a relatively new offering from Abracax House – a translation of Johann Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, a list of demons taken from his work De praestigiis daemonum.  So, how does The False Hierarchy of Demons measure up?

For those who aren’t familiar with this, Weyer (1515-88) was a former pupil of Agrippa who set out to write against beliefs in the witch-hunts and false magicians.  This particular work is a compilation of spirits taken from a manuscript that he read.  His goal in publishing it was to reveal the falsity and fraud of the magicians of the time.  The list has a great deal of similarities to others in manuscript form, especially that which was eventually published as the magical manual the Goetia.

The book itself is quite beautiful, slipcased and bound in red and black, with plentiful color illustrations included.  Each entry for a spirit consists of the name of the entry, the Pseudomonarchia‘s text in the original Latin and English translation, any relevant illustration from the Dictionnaire infernale, and the seals from the Goetia (and possibly other works, although I haven’t looked at all of them).  All of this is quite attractive in presentation.

In my other reviews, I often say that I don’t feel confident enough in my grasp of other languages to critique a translation.  My Latin could always be better, but having taken a brief look at some entries, I can make specific comments on some usages.

The spirit Marbas answers questions “plene,” which is translated as “truly” when “fully” would be better.  Buer provides “optimos” familiars, translated as “good” instead of “the best.”  The term “praeses” is translated in one entry as “president” and another as “master.”  The entry for Gusion says he appears “in forma zenophali,” which the translator follows other readings in rendering “cynocephali.”  Nonetheless, she states that the literal translation is “wild man” or “baboon with a dog-face,” when it should actually be “dog-headed [one].”

I won’t have time to check through the book comprehensively.  Many readers won’t care about this sort of problem, but I’d suggest that any translated herein be double-checked before being quoted or used.

The English is also problematic at some points.  For example, the English sentences are sometimes missing a subject, when the Latin clearly contains one.  Sometimes articles are missing in the sentences as well.  None of these obscures the meaning, I should hasten to add.

Also, it should be noted that the spirit seals are not present in the Pseudomonarchia, which might not be entirely clear from the introdcution.

If you’re looking for an impressive looking book for your bookshelf, this work certainly fits the bill.  The text itself is not bad, but it might have benefited from the same meticulous attention that was put into the rest of the project.

 

Published in: on August 11, 2016 at 1:51 pm  Comments (2)