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.

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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.

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Published in: on March 14, 2019 at 9:55 pm  Comments (2)  

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)  

Forthcoming Iranian and Indian Grimoire Publications from Matthew Melvin-Koushki

Academia alerted me to the article “How to Rule the World: Occult-Scientific Manuals of the Early Modern Persian Cosmopolis” by Matthew Melvin-Koushki of the University of South Carolina.

I’ve just finished it, and I was disappointed to be no closer to ruling the world. Nonetheless, it’s a great piece that outlines the status and reputation of Arabic and Persian magical texts in the Islamic world, in which authors composed them for rulers as a means to hold dominion over all things, as opposed to Western Christianity’s frequent marginalization of similar texts.

I see a few troublesome statements within, such as the following:

The great majority of manuals produced by the Renaissance grimoire industry, Catholic and Protestant alike, perished on the inquisitorial pyre—along with many of their authors and readers; much of our knowledge of Latin Christian magic comes rather from the many manuals written to counter it…

Both of these statements are correct, but the latter has more to do with the failure of past scholars to engage with the still-substantial library of texts that did survive, instead examining the “manuals” written by more “reputable” authors. Nonetheless, it’s worth reading, and here’s my favorite line:

To help combat the blatantly colonialist-Orientalist double standard that still cripples early modern Western intellectual history—whereby printed Latin grimoires like Agrippa’s patently merit much study, but their equally or more influential unprinted Persian cognates precisely none—I have identified, and am editing and translating, a number of pivotal occult-scientific manuals produced in Timurid–Aq Qoyunlu–Safavid Iran and Mughal India that testify to this cultural sea-change.

It gives me an odd feeling – as if I and a bunch of other people are simultaneous being called out and offered a whole bunch of awesome stuff.

The first effort in this regard will be his book The Occult Science of Empire in Aqquyunlu-Safavid Iran, which will print the first translations of A Spiritual Boon by Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī and The Choicest Talismans by Maḥmūd Dihdār, two books that before this moment you didn’t know you wanted. You might be sad to hear that they’ll be coming out from Brill, as that means they’ll be quite expensive, but we’ll get a better sense whenever it shows up on their upcoming releases. At any rate, it’s something to look forward to.

Published in: on February 25, 2019 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Dan Reviews Conjuring the Planetary Intelligences edited by David Rankine

After dealing with the vagaries of transatlantic postage, I’ve received a paper review copy of Hadean Press’s Conjuring the Planetary Intelligences: A Series of Conjurations found in Sloane 3821, edited by David Rankine. It’s also available in ebook format, for those who prefer that.

The book is a nice little publication, dedicated to providing a short series of experiments intended for summoning the spirits of each of the seven planets. For each, we have a seal, some notes on the purposes to which each spirit should be put, and a lengthy invocation to call the spirit to do the magician’s bidding. The text within has had spelling modernized and abbreviations expanded, while maintaining the original capitalization and punctuation.

The appendices include the appearances of planetary spirits taken from the Fourth Book and the kameas, or magical squares, for each planet. I’m not sure what motivated the inclusion of this material and not other planetary magical elements from Agrippa and pseudo-Agrippa (such as the various spirits, the circles to be used, or the seals derived from the kameas), but it’s not that crucial and all of it is readily available.

It’s always good to see another magical work appear in print, and this one will be of interest to collectors and those focusing on early modern ideas about planetary spirits, whether scholarly or pragmatically. Given the expense of shipping, I would suggest either the e-book or buying several of Hadean Press’ offerings at once.

Published in: on February 23, 2019 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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  

Forthcoming from Three Hands Press

Three Hands Press has had a few hiccups with recent releases that they’re working through. Their most recent update included the following two releases, currently undated:

The Wisdom of the Ages and the Secrets of the Sages: A Medieval Arabic Grimoire, translated by Darius Klein. Perhaps one of the most disturbing volumes of medieval Islamic sorcery, Three Hands Press is pleased to announce the first English translation of this (in)famous work. At 350 pages, a great many magical operations are featured, spanning spirit-conjuration, djinn evocation, poisons and alchemical experiments. The book will be of interest to scholars of ceremonial magic, alchemy, herbalism, and the Islamic Golden Age, as well as those attenuated to the currents of antinomian sorcery.

Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. A groundbreaking new English translation of this essential sourcebook on Western Occultism by author Eric Purdue will be announced this Spring. In addition to Eric’s meticulous scholarship on the new translation, the book will be a tour de force of design, offered in a number of different editions, from the affordable to the opulent.

Published in: on February 2, 2019 at 11:13 am  Comments (3)  

Forthcoming: The Key of Necromancy, Volume II

Enodia Press is taking pre-orders for the second volume of the Key of Necromancy. Here’s their blurb:

The second volume of the Key of Necromancy is a great example of the richness within the Faustian Tradition. Its magical experiments, mystifying pentacles and circles of conjuration continue to inspire and fill with awe those who come across them. This volume contains the final part of two important, previously untranslated, German books, the Nigromantisches Kunst-Buch and Der Schlüssel von dem Zwange der Hölle whose first part was published in the first tome.

Among its contents one can find the famous knife and conjuration of the spirit Waran, the Art Nerony, a discourse dealing with the subject of finding mines and protecting them against other miners as well as an interesting addition to the literature on the Olympic Spirits, among many other subjects.

This volume will also be of interest to those keen to the study of Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft for it contains three experiments related to it and might shed some light on their common sources.

I never got around, despite my best intentions, to reviewing Volume 1, so I’ll be writing a deluxe review when both appear.

Published in: on January 16, 2019 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Year’s 2019 Greetings

Happy new year, everyone!

I’ve been working on a few different projects lately.  Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits is through the page proofs process, so I’m looking forward to seeing that next month.

Caduceus is working on the Bellhouse books. I haven’t heard an ETA on their arrival yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

I’m putting some serious work into transcribing another manuscript, Bodleian Douce 116. It’s a manuscript with at least three different scribes, writing in it in different eras. It’s the source of the short piece on early modern fairy beliefs that was published in Folklore, and I think the whole has a great deal of interesting information.

Some of you might have seen my post about alchemist-astrologer-balloonists George and Margaret Graham on Facebook. I’m working on formatting the book to be published on Amazon. It might be the best option, given its length and subject. We’ll see how it all goes.

Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff name-checked me in a recent episode. I’m flattered to think that I’m Ken Hite’s one phone call on Pennsylvania German folklore, but I’d suggest he contact Patrick Donmoyer, who is fluent in German and Pennsylvania German, lives in the region, runs a museum and library of Pennsylvania German buildings and artifacts, paints barn stars (a.k.a. hex signs), etc.

I’ve been reading some interesting stuff lately. The one immediately before me is the latest issue of The Enquiring Eye, which I recommend for those of you interested in short readable articles about folklore and magic.

I hope your new year brings you happiness and lots of great books.

Published in: on January 14, 2019 at 8:35 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  

It’s Not All about the Drugs, People – But Sometimes It Is: Some Thoughts on Bennett’s Liber 420

Yes, I’m going to talk about drugs and occultism. Look out, everyone!

The immediate prompt for this is the release of Chris Bennett’s Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs, and the Occult, which quotes a couple of my own works, namely Oberon and Experimentum. This book is nearly eight hundred pages, so I’m making these judgments on only a few segments of the book: the chapter on the Picatrix, the chapter on ritual magic, and part of the section on fairies.

From what I’ve seen, Bennett’s work must be approached with some care. He tends to toss in all sorts of material, regardless of origin. You’ll get one section consisting of quotes from outdated, sensationalistic potboiler authors, and another in which he extensively quotes David Attrell, one of the translators of the upcoming PSU Press scholarly edition of the Picatrix. He’s thorough enough that he catches a lot of good material, but that thoroughness sometimes compels him to use sources that he should really be tossing out. Is he seeking to impress readers with sheer volume? I don’t know, but if he cut out a good amount of material, he would have a much better book that would make a stronger case and that I’d have an easier time recommending to people.

With that caveat… once you wade through most of this stuff, Bennett makes points that are well-researched and documented, such as:

  • The Picatrix, on several occasions, recommends the use of psychotropic substances, and this book had considerable influence on Trithemius, Agrippa, and other early modern authors.
  • Psychotropic substances show up in the literature of ritual magic in the early modern period.
  • Many practitioners of magic in the 19th century occult revival made use of such substances in conjunction with catoptromancy, or mirror divination.

Bennett does a good job of documenting all of these. There are some odd errors – he refers to Hockley writing a book after the date of his death, and one of the quotes attributed to me comes from a book’s marketing material – but on the whole we have a compelling argument for all of these.

What I chiefly disagree with is the argument derived from the second point. Let’s take the main passage quoted in Liber 420 from Oberon:

Cannabis [hemp;]. Anoint thee with the juice of cannabis and the juice of archangel [“white nettle”] and before a mirror of steel call spirits, and thou shalt see them and have power to bind and to loose them.

Coriander. Coriander gathereth spirits together. A fume being made thereof with Apio167 nisquio [jusquianus, or “henbane”] and lazias168 cictuta [cicuta, or “water hemlock”] urgeth spirits and therefore, it is said, herba spirituum.

Both of these constitute only a few lines. Should we dismiss them because of their brevity? Certainly not. Yet Oberon runs over five hundred pages of text, with many operations for dealing with various spirits, and none of the others call for the use of cannabis. This is reflected in many of the other manuscripts I’ve seen.

(It would also be useful to have some pharmacological insight into some of these procedures. What strains of marijuana were available at the time, and do they reflect the dosages that modern ones contain? An educated opinion on the dosage of THC necessary for hallucinations if applied topically to the face (and, I assume, the mucus membranes) would have been welcome, for instance. It is possible for a substance with pharmaceutical properties to be used for a symbolic value without it being used in sufficient quantities or in an ineffectual manner, and Bennett’s argument would be stronger if he had addressed this point.)

The presence of these substances in some references, and their absence in the vast majority, are both necessary to understanding how these substances fit into ritual magic of the period. Emphasizing one or the other says more about our contemporary debates about psychotropic substances than anything else.

But what about the visions and scenes that accompanied scrying sessions?

Bennet quotes Giovanni Caputo’s “Archetypal-Imaging and Mirror-Gazing” (read here), and a few lines in particular stands out:

Recently, empirical research found that gazing at one’s own face in the mirror for a few minutes, at a low illumination level, produces the perception of bodily dysmorphic illusions of strange-faces. Healthy observers usually describe huge distortions of their own faces, monstrous beings, prototypical faces, faces of relatives and deceased, and faces of animals. (Bennett p. 381)

(Sidebar: In line with what I said about thoroughness, this particular chapter of Bennett also compiles a great deal of information about magical uses of mirrors, if you like that sort of thing.)

Bennett never returns to discuss the implications of this passage, but its importance needs to be underscored. Although we tend to focus on altered states of consciousness caused by pharmaceutical means, scientists have found a wide range of other causes that might also induce these effects. Understanding the grimoires as a whole means recognizing all of these possibilities.

This is where Bennett runs into difficulties. For example he complains that Stephen Skinner “seems to disregard the role of psychoactive substances in magic altogether, even in regards to fumigation, which he suggests was really based on good and bad smells.” With the exceptions noted above, I would agree with Skinner’s assessment of suffumigation as a whole.

Where the book really goes off the rails, however, is in Aaron Leitch’s foreword. As we’ve discussed before, Aaron spent some time in his Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires unsuccessfully arguing for the role of psychotropics in magic. Now he admits that, “The only thing I couldn’t do – at the time I was writing – was point to a specific spell in the European texts that directly included the use of such hallucinogens.”

Yet he can’t let the point go – “Why wouldn’t the grimoire authors routinely mention [drugs]?”, he asks. To me, the answer is pretty clear, but Aaron wants to pursue it further. He does also mention that “listing belladonna as an ingredient in an incense won’t likely be the crime that gets you lynched in a text that tells you how to conjure demons to cure your enemies.” It’s questionable how often anyone would have been the victim of mob violence because someone read his or her book of magic – a quick search turns up one example from the fifth century – but this is otherwise correct.

Yet he’s not done. Aaron makes a supposition and leaps straight to a conclusion: it’s about cultural norms!

And this is the same reason why the hallucinogenic drugs are rarely mentioned in the grimoires, and never appear directly as ingredients in any summoning of divination ritual. Their absence is just more of the author’s insistence that his magick isn’t like those people’s – those vile worshipers of devils who take strange drugs and dance naked in the moonlight! Never! (p. ix.)

So, let’s summarize Aaron’s argument. For early modern practitioners, summoning demons or calling upon the devil to harm others, compel women into sex, and destroy property was perfectly fine, but they didn’t write about drugs because people might think poorly of them.

I’d like to suggest my own standard for evaluating such material. Explicit references to psychotropic substances should be recognized, especially when the method of administration is consistent with what we know about their effects. Otherwise, let’s not add them in. I think that Bennet has demonstrated how much material this still gives us for conversation.

Published in: on December 2, 2018 at 8:27 pm  Comments (2)