Categotry Archives: grimoire

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Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic, edited by Frank Klaassen

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Categories: folk, grimoire, Tags:

Making Magic in Elizabethan England coverIn 2019’s Making Magic in Elizabethan England, Frank Klaassen uses two anonymous manuscripts of magic from Elizabethan England to consider the wider intellectual culture surrounding the practice of magic in the early modern period. He explores how this milieu, in drawing on currents from the Renaissance, the Reformation, and new developments in science, as well as the birth of printing, impacted on the practice of magic, creating an enduring influence on the formation of modern occultism. Though untitled when written, the works are now known as the Antiphoner Notebook and the Boxgrove Manual. The former is concerned with treasure hunting, healing, and protection, and blends medieval conjuring and charm literature with excerpts drawn from Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. The Boxgrove Manual, meanwhile, is a consideration of ritual magic that synthesises material from and credited to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and related medieval works concerning the conjuration of spirits.

Key to the importance attributed to the notebook and the manual is their interstitial status as post-Reformation works. As products of their time, they evince how occultists had to contend with a Catholic legacy in a newly-Protestant England. Up until then, magic had been inherently Catholic in form, employing the religion’s rituals and hagiographic mythologies, not to mention the fundamental idea that divine could be entreated using such systems and drawn into the world. Under Protestantism, these formulae and the very ideas behind them were forbidden, making the occult a doubly illicit practice, both theologically and politically: it was wrong for simply being magic as proscribed against in the bible, but also wrong for retaining elements of, and implying a sympathy for, Catholicism, and with that, a potential vulnerability to the machination of foreign Popish forces.

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Klaassen uses these two titles as a counter to the idea that post-Reformation Protestant theology and the emergence of secular science initiated a process of entzauberung or disenchantment within modernity, in which the previously omnipresence of the supernatural was removed from the world. Instead, Klaassen argues that the Reformation did not so much disenchant the old consensus about magic as to break it apart, allowing for it to be reassembled with new definitions that were increasingly divorced from the previous reliance on traditional religion. The Protestant author of the Boxgrove Manual had, for example, removed any explicitly Catholic content from his source material, but rather than creating a Protestant form of magic in its stead, the book represents not just a break with Catholicism, but a separation from religion itself.

In addition to this general overview with which he opens the book, Klaassen provides specific introductions to both texts, giving their history and an analysis of not only the content but its creators, assessing their intent and methods. The text themselves are presented in a thorough manner, with Klaassen using a preface before each one, explaining the physical characteristics of the manuscript in question, an explanation of the sources he cites, and a setting out of editorial principles. His translations are categorised as semi-diplomatic editions, producing an intermediate version of the manuscript text, largely faithful to how it was produced, but with some minor alterations for readability, with abbreviations expanded, and a few forms of punctuation standardised.

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The two works are extensively annotated by Klaassen, marking out amendments in the editing process but also providing valuable commentary both minor and extensive on matters that arise in the text. Due to the length of some of the digressions, these are understandably formatted as endnotes, rather than footnotes, which is still a shame, as their worth is such that it would aide reading to having them as an accessible adjunct on the same page as the body, visible at a glance, rather than necessitating the flicking between the here and now and the end of each chapter.

Despite their relatively shared provenance, these are two distinct works, in both style and subject matter, with the Antiphoner Notebook being arguably the less interesting of the two. Its focus is almost entirely on charms, perhaps the dullest and yet most popular form of occultism, with all the usual dubious cures for a variety of ailments, as well as dealing with that most perennial of problems, thieves. Many of these are common charms, many of which are drawn from Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and they do tend to dominate in the latter half, but there are also some interesting rituals and procedures, such as divination with a crystal, and a very long procedure for exorcising demons guarding a treasure. One instance tellingly shows how the grip of orthodox religion was loosening in magic, with the compiler including a guide for creating a wastcote of proofe, the process of which involves thread being spun in the name of the devil. The verbatim source for this was Discoverie of Witchcraft, but unlike its use there as part of Scot’s sceptical exposé of superstitious beliefs in witchcraft, in the Antiphoner Notebook it is included as something that could be readily employed like any of the other entries. Klaassen notes that this explicit use of the devil’s name, as well as other formulae in which both demons and angels are directly invoked, would have been beyond the pale of even later medieval necromancers who may have conjured demons but only did so in the name of Jesus.

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With its reliance on works by and attributed to Agrippa, and its focus on matters invocatory, the Boxgrove Manual makes for an immediately more interesting book than the Antiphoner Notebook. It opens with a Pentacle of the Apocalyptic Christ before continuing into a set of planetary seals and a guide to creating lamens for calling spirits, with both good and ill ones being listed. The manual is heavily indebted to Agrippa’s three volume De Occulta Philosophia as well as the apocryphal fourth book pseudonymously attributed to him as Liber Quartus De Occulta Philosophia. The compiler of the Boxgrove Manual clearly believed Agrippa to be the author of Liber Quartus, and draws from it throughout, but he also credits him with authorship of the Heptameron, which is usually credited, again pseudonymously, to Peter de Abano.

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Klaassen concludes the section on the Boxgrove Manual with a brief but valuable appendix, providing the sources for each of the manual’s entries, thereby showing the debt owed to the Heptameron, and to Liber Quartus in particular. In all, Making Magic in Elizabethan England, is a valuable title, not only for the versions of the Antiphoner Notebook and the Boxgrove Manual but for the way in which Klaassen contextualises them within post-Reformation England. He writes with a deft, knowledgeable hand that makes for a joy to read.

Published by the Pennsylvania State University Press

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The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia – W. F. Ryan

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Categories: folk, grimoire, witchcraft, Tags:

The Bathhouse at Midnight cover Yet another entry in Pennsylvania State University Press’s expansive Magic in History series, the peculiarly-titled The Bathhouse at Midnight is a rather weighty and encyclopaedic tome, running to over 500 pages, albeit with a significant slice of this page count being inflated by the large selection of endnotes with which each chapter concludes. William Francis Ryan explains in an introduction that the work builds upon material that they began collecting for their 1969 doctoral dissertation on Old Russian astrological and astronomical terminology, as well as a series of articles on the history of science and magic text in Russia. Suffice to say, it seems that Ryan collected quite a bit of material during this career-spanning hunt, now distilled into fifteen chapters covering off almost every field of magic conceivable.

These chapters broadly divide Russian magic and divination into various subcategories, beginning with popular magic, and followed by considerations of different wizards and witches, systems of divinations, omens, predictions from dreams and physiological phenomena, spells, talismans, materia magica, bibliomancy, numerology, geomancy, alchemy, and astrology. Ryan concludes with a chapter on the relationship between magic and the church, the law and the state, and includes a roster of witchcraft cases that the Synodal court dealt with in the eighteenth century.

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Ryan begins this trip to the bathhouse at midnight with an historical outline, a large part of which is effectively a literature review, albeit not of comparable scholarly dissertations, but of the source texts upon which much of Russian occultism was based. Ryan shows how a considerable body of material imported into Russia was influential on later occultism, with streams coming from an older Byzantine textual tradition, a corpus of translation from Hebrew that were originally made in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, as well as more obvious Western influences. In so doing, the Russian tradition is situated within a broad occult context, wherein the confluence of similarities between indigenous and exotic practices and influence makes it hard to determine what exactly constitutes something that may have originated in native practice.

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The next two chapters focus on practices and the practitioners of magic respectively, beginning with a comprehensive discussion of various types of popular magic, categorised into sections on the evil eye, malefic magic, entities such as ancient gods and evil spirits, prophylactic magic, festivals and other propitious times or dates, magical places and directions, and finally religious parody and inversions. This amounts to a covering off of all the usual areas that one might find in a contemporary practical magical text, but in this instances, there’s a lot more detail and provenance, with Ryan meticulously referencing all his sources. With the following chapter’s focus on the practitioners of this magic, Ryan provides a catalogue of these various types, dedicating usually at least two pages to discuss the Volkhv, the Koldun, the Ved’ma, the Znakhar’, and the Vorozhei. These are only the main designations, and Ryan follows with an additional section exhaustively documenting all the words used for both types of magic and their practitioners. As elsewhere, this is no perfunctory list, and Ryan lists sources, derivation and context.

This is a formula that Ryan uses throughout, everything is so detailed and draws from a wide range of sources, all tied together with an expert voice and clear familiarity with his subject. Evidence of this is the consideration of materia magica, in which Ryan provides a lengthy and useful roster of plants, both real and fantastic, used for magic rites and in Russian folk medicine, where herbs dominated. There are nine pages here, with 49 plants described with varying levels of details, some with botanical names identified, and others with merely the places they are mentioned and their purpose.

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With his background as a president of the Folklore Society and an emeritus professor and honorary fellow at the Warburg Institute and the University of London, Ryan is well equipped to not only deal with the subject of this volume but to authoritatively draw comparisons with Western magic, as well as its classical roots. This makes for a comprehensive work, one that is thorough in its specificity but is aware of a broader context within the occult milieu. Because of Ryan’s readable manner, The Bathhouse at Midnight can be read sequentially from cover to cover, but is also clearly organised in such a way that allows for simply dipping in as a reference.

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The Bathhouse at Midnight is formatted in the academic style one would expect of a publisher like Penn State Press with a small but readable typeface throughout and an even smaller point size for the references and index, suggesting that with less frugal formatting it could have been a work significantly longer that its 504 pages. At first glance there is one exception to the quality of the layout with a distractingly small safety area on the top margins on each page, meaning that the page title and page numbering in the header sit a mere 3mm from the edge of the page. The digital preview version on Amazon features a more comfortable margin and a closer inspection shows that printing is provided by print-on-demand service Lightning Source, whose lackadaisical quality control has resulted in a tiny top and a big bottom. Therefore it is worth bearing in mind that this book may be printed on demand and so the results may vary, for the fault, dear Brutus, is not in the layout but in the printing.

Published by the Pennsylvania State University Press

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Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic – Edited by Claire Fanger

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Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick, middle ages, Tags:

Conjuring Spirits coverPart of the expansive Magic in History series from Pennsylvania State University Press, Conjuring Spirits is an academic work that calls to mind Scarlet Imprint’s more experientially-orientated compendiums Howlings and Diabolical, in that it brings together essays on various magical texts and manuscripts, albeit from an entirely scholarly perspective. The contributions in Conjuring Spirits are divided into two sections, Context, Genres, Images and Angelic Knowledge, with the latter focussing on just two texts, the Sworn Book of Honorius, and John the Monk’s Book of Visions. Presenting both general surveys and more specific analyses are Michael Camille on two examples of the Ars Notoria, Robert Mathiesen on the Sworn Book of Honorius (also discussed alongside the Liber Visionum by Richard Kieckhefer in a separate entry), John B. Friedman on the Secretum Philosophorum, Elizabeth Wade on Lullian divination, while Nicholas Watson and editor Claire Fanger each separately discuss John the Monk’s Book of Visions of the Blessed and Undefiled Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Finally, this book also includes Juris Lidaka’s edition of the Osbern Bokenham-attributed Liber de Angelis, and an overview by Frank Klaassen of late medieval English ritual manuscripts.

It is Klaassen’s survey of late medieval English manuscripts with which the proceedings open, being an appropriately broad grounding in the genre, even if not all of the works discussed in this book come under that category. Lidaka’s translation of Liber de Angelis follows, being introduced with a brief essay in which he gives a history of this manuscript, establishing early on that the attribution to the Augustinian friar and poet Osbern Bokenham is incorrect, and that the Bokenhan to whom authorship is credited may actually have been one William Bokenham. Liber de Angelis is not a single liber and instead consists of extracts from at least three texts, as evidenced by the demarcation into sections on making rings for each of the planets (ordered from Sun to Saturn), followed by Liber de ymaginibus planetarum, in which instructions are given for creating images of the planets but with the spheres in a different order to the rings, and ending with Secreta  astronomie de sigillis planetarum & eorum figuris in which the planets are ordered differently once again in a guide to creating planetary magic square. Given some of the errors in the original text of Liber de Angelis, such as the numbers in some of the magic squares not calculating correctly and the names of planetary angels differing from other sources, Lidaka argues that the texts were transcribed by an enthusiastic amateur, someone with a general interest in magic though less concerned with slavishly getting everything right.

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John B. Friedman’s consideration of the Secretum Philosophorum is a rather dry and technical history of the text, feeling a little out of place given its focus not on ritual magic but on tricks and experiments demonstrating various aspects of the seven liberal arts. Friedman does argue that the text is an example of ‘safe magic,’ using the appearance of sorcery, with its diagrams and occasional acknowledgement of hermetic authority, to give a theoretical matrix to technology and convey ideas of power and learning. Elizabeth Wade also makes a diversion away from grimoires to discuss a fifteenth century German divination device found in a large paper codex catalogued as Cod. Guelf. 75. 10 Aug. 2°. Said fragmentary device is not necessarily the entire focus here and Wade uses it as a starting point for a broader primer on Lullian and pseudo-Lullian forms of mechanical divination, as well as their medieval analogues.

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Robert Mathiesen’s essay on the Sworn Book of Honorius focuses not on its use as a Solomonic grimoire for ceremonial magic, and instead on one of only two magical operations to survive in its six known, and presumably partial, manuscripts. While the second (and according to Mathiesen, less interesting), of the operations is for the summoning to appearance of an angel, spirit or demon, the first is a byzantine ritual for attaining the beatific vision, effectively creating a shortcut to the eschatological goal of Christianity. Mathiesen begins with a preamble giving the history of the sworn book, and then a summary of the rite itself, which still runs to several pages despite not being presented in its entirety. There’s little analysis of individual components of the rite and Mathiesen concludes with a discussion on the efficacy of such complicated ritual formulae (he seems pretty assured that it would get some kind of result), and thereby suggests that the rite’s potential to undercut the religious foundation of the medieval world would account for William of Auvergne’s description of the Sworn Book of Honorius as the very worst book of magic in circulation.

Two essays from Nicholas Watson and editor Claire Fanger are unique in that a hitherto unknown manuscript version of their subject, John the Monk’s Liber Visionum, had, at the time of writing in 1998, been recently discovered at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada; while several other full and partial manuscripts have since been found in various European archives. It is worth mentioning that Flanger has subsequently shown that, as per John the Monk himself, the work should be more accurately called Liber florum celestis doctrine, with only its first, autobiographical section being called the Liber visionum, but for the sake of consistency and the convention established by this volume, we’ll keep the archaic naming in this review. With the McMaster version of the Liber visionum being uncovered by Watson and then translated and thoroughly documented by Fanger, there’s a personal feel to the considerations here. Watson discusses the relationship between the McMaster manuscript and another one discovered in Munich, as well as contextualising the work in terms of the broader devotional and mystical tradition upon which it draws. Watson is exhaustive in his analysis, resulting in the longest entry in Conjuring Spirits, running to 52 pages, aided and abetted by extensive endnotes and several appendices: structural analyses of the McMaster and Munich manuscript, as well as individual summaries of both versions. After that, Fanger shows that there’s still more to be said about John the Monk’s text with her own essay in which she considers its relations to the Ars Notoria on which it is modelled. For her own appendix, Fanger provides a synopsis of a prologue from a version of the Liber visionum from the University of Graz library.

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John the Monk makes another appearance in Michael Camille’s consideration of examples of ars notoria imagery from various manuscripts, which opens with a vituperative quote from the Grandes Chroniques de France in which the monk of Morigny is pilloried for his wish, through his curiosity and pride, to renew the heretical and sorcerous notary art under another name. John the Monk’s own Marian 0figures are not the focus here, though, and Camille considers the notae from the thirteenth century Turin manuscript (MS E. V.13) and the fourteenth century Paris BN lat. 9336. The images are recipients of detailed discussion, with Camille bringing to them an art historian’s focus by tracing provenance and making comparisons with other examples of medieval pictorial and diagrammatic content. Photographic examples of the notae, as well as their analogues, are included, many at full size, though the quality of reproduction is not the greatest, with a blurry murk and a lack of contrast.

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Conjuring Spirits concludes with Richard Kieckhefer’s The Devil’s Contemplatives, in which he considers the two titles already exhaustively discussed within this volume: the Liber Iuratus Honorii (aka the Sworn Book of Honorius) and once again, John the Monk’s Liber Visionum. Kieckhefer’s point of difference, though, is analysing how both texts are evidence of the Christian appropriation of various elements from Jewish occultism. He emphasises the way in which both the Liber Iuratus and the Liber Visionum focus less on the typical goetic summoning of demons and rather on a form of devotional mysticism; an approach, he argues, that has little precedent in Western occultism and is instead drawn from Kabbalah, particularly the vision-rich Merkabah tradition. The previously-discussed ritual for attaining the beatific vision from the Liber Iuratus is an obvious example of this, as is John the Monks devotional reverence towards the Virgin Mary. While the attitude of these Western and Kabbalistic systems is circumstantially similar, Kieckhefer has no smoking gun, with the closest being a version of the Liber Iuratus that includes the Shem HaMephorash, Kabbalah’s secret name of God, in the design of a seal used for acquiring a dream vision.

Despite this book’s title, there’s relatively little that concerns itself with the conjuring of spirits here, with far greater focus on the devotional and reflective elements seen in works such as the Sworn Book of Honorius and Liber Visionum, and even in considerations of the mental self-improvement and memory aides showcased in the Ars Nortoria and the Secretum Philosophorum. With John the Monk looming over many of the contributions here, Conjuring Spirits is a valuable resource on the Liber Visionum, being the largest consideration of the text at the time of publication; though now rivalled by Fanger’s 2015 book, Rewriting Magic: An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk, also published by Pennsylvania State University Press.

Conjuring Spirits, like other titles in the Magic in History series, appears to be available in two editions. One of them features the classic, sombre and refined Penn State Press Magic in History cover template, whilst the other, reviewed here, has a cover design that is slightly more in keeping with an Inner Traditions or Weiser mass market title, all green gradient, low opacity goetic sigil and large drop-shadowed type. In at least this copy, apparently printed-on-demand by Ingram, there is a printing error, where the cover has skewed a couple of degrees off base, meaning that the spine print is noticeably misaligned, with a crooked sliver of the cover’s green gradient creeping into the spine, and a corresponding slice of black spine sneaking round onto the back matter. This same on-demand printing may account for the poor quality reproduction of images.

Published by the Pennsylvania State University Press

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The Long Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire – John George Hohman, edited by Daniel Harms

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Categories: folk, grimoire, Tags:

The Long Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire coverThis publication holds a special if dubious honour within the salty halls of Scriptus Recensera, being the first book published by Llewellyn Worldwide (long-time purveyors of lightweight and easily mocked titles) to be reviewed here. While Llewellyn certainly have released some less than rigorous titles over the years, attracting now predictable derision as fluff and other barbs so beloved of serious business occultists, they have, in their time, occasionally published more serious titles, often of the reference variety. This is the case here, with an definitive edition of The Long Lost Friend, an anthology, as the subtitle betrays, of nineteenth century American folk magic.

First published in German in 1820 as Der Lange Verborgene Freund (‘The Long-Hidden Friend’) by author and publisher John George Hohman, this work was then released in two English translations, first in 1846 as The Long Secreted Friend or a True and Christian Information for Every Body (in a translation by Hohman himself) and then the second in 1856 as the exhaustively-titled The Long Lost Friend; a Collection of Mysterious and Invaluable Arts and Remedies for Man as well as Animals. Given the inevitably concise nature of a book such as this, running to just 190 often brief charms and spells, it may come as a surprise that this contemporary edition clocks in at almost 300 pages. And it is this length that proves the true value of this edition, with a veritable surfeit of supplementary information, including a series of appendices twice as long as the grimoire itself, as well as Daniel Harms’ extensive introduction and annotations. This point of difference is important because the text itself is in the public domain and is available online as well as in multiple print versions, including a lovely looking, multi-format edition from Troy Books, edited and illustrated by Gemma Gary.

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The description of The Long Lost Friend as a grimoire may be a bit of marketing glamour from Llewellyn, as there’s little here that compares it to the classics of the genre: no casting of circles, no summoning of demons, no barbarous names, and no cool-looking sigils. While it might be splitting semantic hairs, a better term might just be a charm book, one that, as Owen Davies notes in his definitive tome Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, ventured only occasionally into grimoire territory. Thus, there is an invocation to the angel Gabriel for assistance in finding iron, ore or water with a wand, and a charm against witchcraft that uses an INRI-based acrostic, but otherwise everything is pretty standard folk magic fare.

In his introduction, Harms provides as detailed a history as possible of the grimoire’s author, John George Hohman, detailing his arrival from Germany and ventures into publishing to alleviate a near persistent risk of poverty; suffice to say, there’s not a lot of spells for money making in this book. Hohman, in his own introduction seems at pains to stress two things about his book: that the book’s spells are not at odds with Christianity, and that their efficacy is well documented and beyond reproach. Despite an earnest, confident swagger, Hohman testifies to the existence of heaven and hell and claims that every wheal or mortification he has banished using the spells documented within the book has been done by the Lord. With a carney’s patter he then rattles off a list of anecdotal success stories, three pages worth, which proves at least one thing, that most of these spells take 24 hours to work. There’s Catherine Meck of Alsace township whose wheal in the eye was healed in little more than 24 hours, Michael Hartman Jr. also of Alsace, whose child was healed of a sore mouth in little more than 24 hours, plus Mr Silvis of Reading whose wheal in the eye was cured in a little more than 24 hours. Eye wheals seem to have been a major cause of concern in Pennsylvania, that and undiagnosed pain which, mercifully, could also be dealt with in little more than 24 hours. Suffice to say, Hohman’s somewhat specious success comes across less convincing to the reader than it apparently did to him.

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The spells in The Long Lost Friend are what one would expect of a collection of folk charms: simple, a little bit gross and usually pretty useless. Right out of the gate, the second spell is a disgusting favourite: as a remedy for hysterics or colds, in the evening, whenever you take off your socks, run your fingers between your toes and smell them. “This will certainly effect a cure.” Not sure about that but it will certainly effect something. I think I’ll stick with having a cold, thanks.

As evidenced by some disappointed reviews on Amazon, if you come here looking for traces of paganism (as all magic is often assumed, without merit, to be) or a practical book of simple commercial spells and love philtres, then you’re going to be disappointed. Obviously, that’s not the point here, and instead The Long Lost Friend is an exhaustive curiosity, valuable for its historical and reference purposes, particularly as an intersection between old and new world magic, but not, indeed, the most dependable of friends, lost or otherwise. That isn’t to say that everything here is entirely useless and like a wrong clock there are cures that hit on some efficacious quality, such as peaches being used to relieve kidney stones, or blue vitriol (copper sulphate) to alleviate toothache. Just don’t expect me to boil a rabbit’s brain and rub it on a child’s teeth when they’re teething, or to imbibe the powder from a burnt hog’s bladder in order to halt incontinence.

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Many of the spells and charms specifically situate the relevance of this work in its time, betraying the concerns of the region’s rural habitants beyond eye wheals and random aches. Barking dogs, for example, were a bit of a nuisance, in fact that may be underselling the annoyance somewhat as the methods of dealing with a mere bark seem complicated, not to mention unnecessarily cruel: there’s wearing a dog’s heart on your left side (presumably not from the one that’s barking but that would also be effective), or wearing halves of a barn owl heart under each of your armpits. Said heart and the poor barn owl’s right foot can also be placed on a sleeping person to make them answer anything you ask; perhaps “why do you have bits of an owl on you?” Let it not be said that Pennsylvania spell workers didn’t use the whole of the barn owl.

Not all of the charms here are brutal and scientifically deficient and things do occasionally take a practical turn with, for example, instructions on how to make molasses from pumpkin (so good they were attested to have been mistaken for the real thing by Hohman himself) or how to a make a ‘good beer.’ Then there’s also a recipe for buttermilk pop, a one sentence method of cleaning brass, instructions for making plaster for cracks, and a guide to making glue. All of this highlights the practical, everyday aspect of a book like this, with supernatural charms sitting alongside home tips, thereby coming across like a farmer’s almanac with a little more animal cruelty, rather than a grimoire full of sigils and barbarous names. “So, got any instructions for making toilet soap, Grimorium Verum? Know how to make an excellent liniment, Sworn Book of Honorius? What? No? I’ll stick with my Long Lost Friend then.”

From a religious perspective, the text of the charms and spells here often have a liturgical origin, drawing from the nomenclature and trappings of Catholicism, and giving them something of an exotic twist amongst a predominantly Lutheran and Reformed Church audience. It’s in these cases where the book is at its most magical, with the Virgin Mary and the Trinity being invoked, along with St. Peter and the other occasional saint, including none other than St. Cyprian.

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Harms is rigorous, almost relentless, in his annotation of the spells and charms here, sometimes loading up a simple, one sentence charm with as many as three endnotes, resulting in 46 pages of endnotes. Indeed rigour is a key word here, from the thorough introduction, to the endnotes’ attention to minutiae within each charm and spell. Necessitating that a second bookmark be kept towards the end of the book, Harms’ endnotes document the provenance, where known, of each entry, provides a definition for terms unfamiliar to a modern audience, and notes where changes exist between different editions of the book.

With the exception of these several pages of endnotes, for solely English speakers, the book’s use largely comes to an end at page 144, as the remaining half reproduces The Long Lost Friend in its original German, highlighting its value as a reference work.

Published by Llewellyn

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Rún Galdrabok – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire

Rún coverStrandagaldur, the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, is not just a museum and home to the necropants, but also runs a small publishing house releasing works relevant to the museum’s theme. This grimoire facsimile is of the type mentioned frequently in Icelandic trials for magic and sorcery, of which a few survive. Though such trials date as far back as the seventh century, Rún is a considerably more recent grimoire, written in the early 20th century, but with material based on earlier antecedents.

Rún was one of two books commissioned in 1928 by Magnús Steingrímsson, a farmer at Hóla in Steingrímsfjörður’s Staðardalur valley. In addition to his farming, Magnús was an active community member as a district officer, a member of the county council and one of the founders of the local library. Revealing a persistent interest in matters magical, the second book he had copied that year was a collection of healing recipes, both herbal and verse-based, the original of which was borrowed from one Sighvatur Grímsson Borgfirðingur and then transcribed by Magnús’ seventeen year old daughter Petrina. It is not Petrina’s hand that is seen in the pages of Rún, though, and editor Magnús Rafnsson suggests the task may have been passed on to her fourteen year old sister Borghildur, who both wrote the text and replicated the accompanying images. Although they don’t share the title, the material in Rún also appears with some slight variations in at least two other manuscripts from the same period: one written by a fisherman, Finnbogi Bernódusson, and helpfully called Magical Signs Copied from a Manuscript from 1676, and another one, a “very old manuscript, yellowed and torn,” documented by the scholar Þorsteinn Konraðsson.

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Strandagaldur presents Rún as a full facsimile, with the plates followed by an English translation of the grimoire’s text, along with a brief essay outlining the history of the manuscript, written in Icelandic and translated into a slightly abridged English version. The pages of Rún are presented as high quality, full colour scans on the same glossy stock used throughout the rest of the book, each with full bleed so that they run to the edge of the page, with the necessary evil of modern page number overlaid somewhat obtrusively at the bottom of each page. Unfortunately as the images aren’t replicated within the text of the English translation, this can make for something of a lifeless reading, with the content of multiple pages listed as purely utilitarian entries down the pages (with formatting of titles undifferentiated from body copy), and often requiring a lot of flicking back and forth to understand what the transcription, rendered cryptic from lack of context, even refers to.  Rún spread

Rún itself runs to 97 pages and begins with a listing of various magical scripts, a staggering 36 in all. This exhaustive collection ranges from some that are obviously based on runes (though with some deviations from the standards and with the characters ordered in a Latin manner, rather than that of a futhark), to entirely unique ones that look more like cyphers, such as the Chest script with its rectangles surrounded by dashes, or the mysterious titled Ramvilla comprised of iterations of the same triangle differentiated with variously placed dots and dashes. These scripts are presented without comment and provenance, with only their names to hint intriguingly at function, such as the evocatively named demons’ script, völur runes, mound-dweller’s script, and various malrunar or speech runes. As a collection of scripts that can be used in magic for a little bit of variety from the usual runes or other magical alphabets, this alone makes the purchase of Rún worthwhile.

The scripts collection is followed naturally by a series of staves and sigils with instructions for their use. These are for a variety of common folk and farming concerns that are familiar from other galdrbok, as well as the magical books from further afield, with staves for fishing, catching thieves, dealing with various agricultural concerns and the typically morally problematic controlling of unwilling objects of affection. In addition, there are some spells and staves that are distinctly darker in hue, with dreamstaves, a stave to wake the dead, invocations against ghosts, and spells for using shadow sight, going witch riding or wearing a concealing helm. As one would expect, many of these spells make supplication to the godforms of Christianity, with Jesus figuring prominently as well as mentions being made of a variety of figures from Hebrew mythology. However, there are some pagan references too, mainly in the names given to various staves, such as an illusionary stave named Óðinn (for which no properties or instruction are given), or another called a Þórshamar, made using copper stolen from a church bell, and which, like a similarly-named but different looking stave in Geir Vigfússon’s earlier Huld manuscript, is used for catching thieves.

Rún spread

A series of spells follows the collection of staves, covering similar thematic ground but without the visual component, as well as a few riddles. Then, if the exhaustive collection of scripts at the start wasn’t enough, Rún ends with even more, twenty in all. These are presented differently from those at the beginning of the book, with each preceded by a large title, rendered beautifully in various blackletter and kurrentschrift faces. The letters of the scripts themselves also stand out, being executed with considerably more care than their earlier counterparts, with the Klapprúnir stóru being particularly lovely in its heavily weighted strokes and delicately rendered serifs.

Rún spread

It is the visual component of Rún that makes it stand out as the whole, not just in the exquisitely rendered scripts at the end but with some of the staves as well. Often these appear as full page illustrations, a little scrappy in their execution but with an undeniable charm and with the added bonus that they don’t seem to be documented elsewhere. In all, this makes this edition of Rún a valuable addition to any magician or magical scholar’s library, offering something more than the familiar Stephen Flowers-published Galdrabók or the Huld manuscript.

Published by Strandagaldur

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Queen of Hell – Mark Alan Smith

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Categories: classical, goetia, grimoire, hekate, nightside, witchcraft, Tags:

Queen of Hell coverOriginally published in 2010 by Ixaxaar, Mark Alan Smith’s Queen of Hell is here released as a Nightside edition via his own Primal Craft imprint, acting as the first instalment in a reissue of his Trident of Witchcraft trilogy. On the most immediate level, Queen of Hell looks like everything you want in an occult publication: bound in a luxurious green velvet cloth, sigils on the front and reverse covers foiled in gold, blackletter title on the spine (also in gold, naturally), and said spine with a substantial, tome-worthy width of three centimetres. Plus, a matching green cloth bookmark, huzzah!

The queen of hell of the title is Hekate (henceforth Hecate, in deference to Smith’s spelling) but the Hecate within these pages bears only a passing resemblance to the goddess of classical Greek and Roman sources, and appears, instead, as the figure of the book’s title, a diabolical queen of hell and witchcraft of the most glamorously demonic kind. Largely unmoored from her classical origins, Hecate here instead exists within a more qliphothic cosmology and goetic pantheon; something that is made clear from the first page of the first chapter where her throne is said to be beyond Kether and its corresponding qliphah Thaumiel, and with her envisioned as a primordial first goddess, the highest tip of the initiating power or trident of witchcraft, and the queen not only of hell but of heaven and earth. While this has little parallel with the traditional image of Hecate, it must be said that divorced from the specific nomenclature of the qliphoth, it does recall her appearance in the Chaldean Oracles in which she is a grand cosmic force, the lightning-receiving womb and formless fire of the aneidon pur, visible throughout the cosmos.

Queen of Hell spread with sigils of Lucifer

Despite the qliphothic decoration, it is fundamentally a form of witchcraft that is presented here, made none more clearer than in the next chapter and its listing of some familiar ritual implements: athame, wand, chalice, pentacle, sword, salt, etc. Smith gives his own dark veneer of interpretation to these, though, with the wand as the staff of the Dark Lord, the chalice as the grail that is the emerald of Lucifer fallen from on high, and multiple references to Atlantis, which in Smith’s cosmology acts as an ur-culture for his pantheon and its tradition.

This demonic side comes to the fore fairly on when Smith provides an overview of his core pantheon, headed, naturally, by Hecate and followed by the two other points of this Trident of Witchcraft: Lucifer and Belial (subjects of their own books in this trilogy as the titular Red King and Crown Prince of the Sabbat respectively). Somewhat reminiscent of the legend of Diana and Aradia as recorded by Charles Leland, Lucifer is defined as the son and brother of Hecate, a dark solar form of the horned god of witchcraft. Belial, meanwhile, is conflated with Beelzebub and identified as the ruler of the qliphah Ghagiel and as a darker twin of Lucifer, thereby being described by Hecate as “the spawn of my spawn.” Rather than create new sigils for Lucifer and Belial in an already crowded sigil market, Smith relies on the classics and draws from grimoires. And instead of picking just one sigil, he presents the various variations from the Grand Grimoire, the Grimorium Verum, and the Lemegeton. Each is said to be a separate junction belonging to its spirit, though some are given more significance than others, such as, for example, the familiar and more aesthetically-pleasing Grimoirium Verum sigil for Lucifer, which, as its form suggests, is said to be the gateway to the City of Pyramids.

Queen of Hell spread

Beyond this primary trinity of powers, Smith list a range of lesser spirits, once again mixing demonology with the occasional nod to Greek mythology. Thus, sitting quite happily alongside goetic spirits like Surgat and Lucifuge Rofocal are the fate-spinning trio of the Moirai, the Hadean daimon Eurynomos, and the hound Cerberus. Like Hecate (their sister in this telling), the three Moirai, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, are contextualised within a qliphothic framework, and given an abode in the qliphah of Sathariel from which they also access Gamaliel for works of dark moon magick. Similarly, Eurynomos dwells in Belial’s qliphah of Ghagiel, while Cerberus is associated with Daath and the initiatory great Abyss.

As the cast of characters and their areas of influence attest, there is, unsurprisingly, a distinctively dark hue to the content of Queen of Hell, with everything cast within a grimly glamorous aesthetic of moons and serpents, horns and blood, stars and fire. The language of the rites and evocations echoes this, employing a rich, descriptive lexicon in service of a suitably gothic liturgy. It’s not entirely tenebrous, though, and Smith embraces Hecate’s role as queen of heaven as much of hell by having one invocation of a force from the Empyrean realm, with the Archangel Michael called upon as an initiatory force, ultimately merging with Lucifer within the practitioner, the two acting effectively as classic shoulder angels and devils.

Smith writes with a style that is no-nonsense with little room for handholding, deferring to no authority other than that of his own tradition. In some cases, it seems to be assumed that you have gleamed all that needs to be gleamed in the discussion of a particular technique, often presented in its core theory rather than step-by-step instructions, and then you’re on your own if you weren’t paying attention. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach, as it ensures focus and emphasises the experiential, with each incremental step building one ‘pon t’other.

Queen of Hell spread with Evocation of the Witch Gods

Summoning in a broadly goetic style plays a large part in the magical arsenal here (with some major tweaks, as one would expect, with less of the cajoling and threatening), with all of the previously mentioned cast, as well as a broad range of other beings, having invocations. But there are also little things that bring this primal craft back to its witchy underpinnings. There’s a discussion of core techniques of malefica, the use of familiars, a brief diversion into the now almost de rigueur toad rite, as well as the employment of totemic witch bottles (here called spirit pots) to house egregores, and in a continuation of the theme but on a larger scale, the use of cauldrons as a gateway between worlds.

Queen of Hell concludes with a second part, defined as its own self-contained Book of the Inner Sanctum (though the first part of the book is not given a comparable heading), in which the focus moves away from the practical sorcery of the first half and into the astral. The Inner Sanctum of the title encompasses the highest powers and gnosis in the Primal Craft system, and these are accessed with a series of considerably and increasingly more complex and involved rituals, incorporating a variation of the aforementioned toad bone rite, as well as a series of other workings that have less of a familiar witchy pedigree. It is this section which underpins the general impression generated by Queen of Hell, in that what is presented here is a complex, thorough system that, should it and its aesthetics appeal to you, has a lot to work with.

Queen of Hell is illustrated in a style similar to all Primal Craft titles, with sigils rendered as chunky, somewhat-angular, heavy-weighted vector forms, while illustrations are full page glossy plates that have some hand-drawn elements but are also heavy on post-processing, with blurred Photoshop-rendered flames, smoke and clouds. The most striking of these is a portrait of Hecate in which she eerily resembles Carice van Houten as the Lady Melisandre from Game of Thrones, with the ruins of some building ablaze in the background.

Queen of Hell spread with full page image of Hecate

Typesetting in Queen of Hell is rather utilitarian, with the body in a slightly too large serif face, with subtitles in a bold variation of the same, and chapter titles all-caps in another serif face, Garamond. This is set as fully-justified paragraphs, within conservative left, right and top margins, creating a somewhat cramped feeling. Paper stock is heavier than usual, sitting between 130 and 140 gsm, and having an almost card-like quality, which may account for a few places where the binding seems to have suffered.

This Nightside edition of Queen of Hell was released in a now sold-out edition of 500, featuring double thickness endpapers, and handbound in an emerald Lynel Fur that retains the green of the Ixaxaar edition, but with a new sigil foiled in gold on the cover. Sigils within and other artwork have been recreated and enhanced, the promotional blurb tells us, by the D’via Roja Group (though both context and even the powers of Google make it hard to tell who or what this group are).

Published by Primal Craft

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Howlings – Edited by Alkistis Dimech

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Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick, Tags:

Howlings coverBack when Scriptus Recensera launched, the Word document that forms the master copy of the reviews here (and which now runs to 110 pages) had a provisional list of headings, with the names of books to review. It still works like that, new review-worthy titles are added when they arrive and quickly, or eventually, the space beneath them is filled in as they are rapidly, or slowly, read. One title that has been there resolutely from the beginning, seeing its companions reviewed and sent down the pages of the file, is Scarlet Imprint’s Howlings, so let’s for lots of reasons I’m sure, and not just to finally put it to rest, review it exactly ten years after its release.

Howlings was Scarlet Imprint’s first anthology concerning grimoire-related writings, and it was later followed by the previously reviewed Diabolical. It bears the perfect name for such a title, seemingly ambiguous and modern (like some noise-rock duo… *pause for searching* well, what do you know, it’s a witch house producer from California), but referring appropriately to a seemingly contentious translation of goetia as ‘howling.’ The Goetia is just one of the grimoires explored by the multiplicious howling voices in the fourteen essays that make up the singular Howlings, along with The Picatrix, Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Michael Bertiaux’s The Voudon Gnostic Workbook, Aleister Crowley’s Liber 231, and Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub.

Fittingly, it is The Goetia that receives the most attention in Howlings, with a total of six essays addressing various aspects of the 17th century grimoire, featuring contributions from Paul Hughes-Barlow, Aleq Grai, David Rankine (who also later contributes a piece on Agrippa and magical squares), Peter Grey, and two from Thea Faye. In the first of her two pieces, Sex in the Circle, Faye considers aspects of gender in invocation, while in the second, and continuing with her largely practical approach, she addresses the trustworthiness of the various goetic spirits. Considering that in The Goetia there are 72 spirits available to practitioners, it’s interesting that one of them, Andromalius, finder of thieves and treasure, receives somewhat disproportionate attention here, being the focus of Hughes-Barlow’s piece, and also featuring heavily in Aleq Grai’s Tools of the Goetia, which includes a transcript of a ritual conversation with them.

Chimeric image from the internal title page

For those with more caliginous inclinations, Crowley’s qliphothic text Liber 231 receives attention from Krzysztof Azarewicz, Stafford Stone and Donald Tyson. Azarewicz broadly considers the text itself, while Tyson’s 49 page The Gates of Daath, the longest contribution in this anthology, is a wide-ranging consideration of sephiroth, qliphoth and their tarot attributions, particularly in regard, as one would expect, to the nullsphere of Daath. As he would later do in Diabolical, Stafford Stone’s contribution to things nightside are a selection of cards from his Nightside Tarot (Baratchial, Gargophias, Uriens and Niantiel), accompanied by brief battlefield notes, as he calls them, describing each of the featured atu and their perpetually symmetrical spirits.

Spread with plates for Stafford Stone's Gargophias, Uriens cards

One of the things that appeals about Howlings, and it is summed up in the subtitle to David Beth’s Bertiaux-themed Into the Meon essay, Approaching the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, is that feeling of a supremely personal interaction with the writer’s grimoire of choice. Where Howlings succeeds most is in those instances where the idea is one of encountering, exploring and experiencing a tome; something that appeals to the bibliophile in me. While writing should be rigorous without doubt, those qualities are enhanced here by the enthusiasm of the contributors, where the interaction with the grimoire is experiential, visceral and profound. At the same time, though, this approach doesn’t always work, and some of the essays reflecting on the author’s personal journey wither in comparison to those with more of an academic skill set. The latter succeeds is in those instances where the personal is combined with a clear, authoritative voice, and with stellar writing skills; something not always the case with so many contributors.

Scarlet Imprint’s Peter Grey fulfils the promise that a volume such as this offers with his perfectly titled The Stifling Air. Combining the personal with historical antecedents, Grey writes in a beautifully poetic manner that engages with its tone but doesn’t get too purple in its prose. His is a picturesque tribute to the ritual virtues of smoke and incense, beginning with a panegyric overview before considering various incenses individually and extensively. That sense of personal interaction is also evident in Jack Macbeth’s Getting to the Point, which acts as both paean and practicum for Chumbley’s poetic text Qutub. Macbeth writes affectionately of Chumbley’s relatively brief work, describing it as hypnotic, whirling and a “many layered exposition on the sorcerous arte.”

The formatting in Howlings is as lovely as one would expect from Scarlet Imprint, with type set at a small but readable serif face, framed by large margins and a generous footer. Given the multitude of contributors, there’s understandably variance in how images are presented, with sigils rendered differently in weight and style, but otherwise the quality is fine. The one exception is in the reproduction of two engravings by Albrecht Dürer, with Melancholia not as a sharp as it could be, while The Angle with the Key to the Bottomless Pit is unforgivably and surprisingly soft, murky and blurry.

Howlings page spread

Howlings was released in several editions, with the first being a limited and hand-numbered edition of 333 copies. The second edition consists of 666 copies but is confusingly numbered sequentially from 334 to 999, of which this reviewer’s copy (for those keeping score at home) is number 782. It has black endpapers, black and white illustrations, colour plates and is bound in turquoise cloth, with gilt titling to spine and an geometric Islamic design foiled over the entire front. Although, as with other Scarlet Imprint titles, this foiling has, with the passage of time, flaked and faded in places, despite the impeccable archival standards at Scriptus Recensera. Contact with the cover through the mere act of reading means that by the time you finish the book, the cover will have changed, appearing worn in those places  where your hands have rested. Feature or a bug, you decide.

Published by Scarlet Imprint

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Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana – Storm Constantine

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Categories: chaos, grimoire, magick

Grimoire Dehara coverAs an unrepentant bibliophile, it is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many wonderful (and not so wonderful) books out there that must be read. One area that always takes a back seat is fiction, and so despite having a few of her titles in the shelves here at the hallowed halls of Scriptus Recensera, we’ve never had the pleasure of diving into the worlds of Storm Constantine.

Perhaps the work for which she is best known, her Wraeththu series, had its first instalment in 1987 with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit and has continued into this decade; although Constantine wrote her earliest Wraeththu tales a decade earlier in 1973. The Wraeththu are very much a race for today, a post-apocalyptic, hermaphroditic species that evolved from humanity and are divided into tribes. Androgynous and sensual, they seem to be cut from the same cloth as Anne Rice’s fey and elegant vampires, or Poppy Z. Brite’s queer outsiders.

With Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana, Constantine takes the system of magic used in the Wraeththu universe and fleshes it out for real world application. In a subculture of made-up magical systems, with people desperately trying to claim mysterious provenance for their fictions, what better than a system that is unashamedly fictional? As such, and as Constantine notes, Grimoire Dehara follows a chaos magick template of pop culture sorcery, creating new thought-forms with that slightly scientific, partly Jungian bent of any Chaoate. This is borne out by the resources at the end of the book, with two books by Phil Hine being the only other titles namechecked amongst those from Constantine herself and her collaborator Taylor Ellwood. There are also bonus points for the musical recommendations here, with Constantine suggesting Ephemeral from Synaesthesia and two albums by Steve Roach (The Magnificent Void and with Byron Metcalf, The Serpent’s Lair). Fine tastes and something that makes for a great reviewing accompaniment.

The gods of the Wraeththu are the Dehara of the grimoire’s title, with the principle deities being Aruhani (dehar of sex and procreation, life and death), Agave (warrior dehar of fire), Lunil (dehar of the Moon, love and spirituality) and Miyacala (dehar of inception, magic and wisdom). In addition there are elemental and seasonal deities called dehara vegrandis, and egregore forms created for specific and limited purposes called dehara demitto. Given the grimoire’s title, the dehara not unexpectedly form the focus of much of this book, with Constantine introducing each of them with descriptions and sigils, which she also does for their respective etheric nayati (temple or ritual space with descriptions and their sigils for them). With these are full page illustrations of each dehara, all evocative, beautiful and mysterious. Later in the book, Constantine returns to the dehara once more, providing further information along with extensive invocations and guided visualisations for each; and repeating the full page illustrations, which I’m not too sure about.

The dehara Aruhani

Having not read any of the Wraeththu novels before, one feels one’s self at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the terminology and names. There is an alienness to the language, that makes it hard to remember which term means what. This is due to it not necessarily having any resemblance to touchstones such as the Romance or Germanic languages, those two most common families for European ears. If anything, it bears a superficial resemblance to Eastern Polynesian languages like Hawaiian, with distinctly Polynesian phonemes appearing in words such as kaimana, rehuna and aruhani. At the same time, a preponderance of the letter ‘j’ and a ‘hahn’ sound in other words draws a comparison with Hindi; while in some cases, English portmanteaus occur, incorporating terms such as ‘tides,’ and somewhat breaking the feeling of exotic otherness. Suffice to say, the seven page glossary at the back proves a frequently frequented friend in the early stages of reading as one acclimatises to the new terminology.

At 200 pages, Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana presents an impressively rich and detailed system that builds gradually in complexity. For anyone familiar with contemporary magic, and in particular the techniques associated with its Chaos forms, there won’t be much here that is, at its core, unfamiliar, with the innovation coming from how it’s integrated into the Wraeththu mythos and paradigm. And, as one would expect of a system quite consciously created with all the benefit of several thousand years of precedents, there are certain near universal themes that are given a Wraeththu twist. Agmara, for example, is the name given to breath, both the breath of the divine and the breath of the practitioner, which like prana in Hinduism, or the Force in Star Wars, is an all-permeating, universal energy, that is a powerful ally. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. But I digress.

Page spread with image of Aghama

The system begins with an initiation with a particularly Wraeththu spin, being a visualisation based on what in the novels is called Inception, where a human is transformed into a Wraeththu through the infusion of their blood. In the initiation ceremony, called a Harhune, the practitioner imagines themselves transforming into the androgynous har body, creating an ethereal body that is then used for any subsequent majhahns (rituals). Following on from this initiation, Constantine presents a series of exercises and procedures that could be broadly said to involve ritual breathing, visualisations and pathworkings, and light work. Practitioners add to their ethereal arsenal with the creation of their own hienama (an egregoric teacher), the building of an etheric nayati ritual space, and the development of minor Deharan magical entities for specific purposes.

In addition to this more personal work, Constantine provides evidence of her world building with Arotahar, a harish Wheel of the Year, that incorporates a grand seasonal mythologem redolent of European harvest rites for dying and resurrecting gods, and features eight arojhahns (festivals) across the year. Each arojhahn has invocations, rituals and visualisations associated with it, making this section, along with dedicated sections working with the dehara, the lion’s share of the grimoire. For those willing to embrace the mythos and modality, there’s a lot to do, with a full ritual year to follow, and the pantheon of the main dehara creating a comprehensive set of entities to engage with.

Olga Ulanova: Feybraihatide Arojhahn

Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana is thoroughly illustrated throughout with images of the various dehara and their attributes. Created by Olga Ulanova, they in some ways make the book, providing a very clear visual sense of what the dehara look like and explicating the whole Wraeththu aesthetic. The images often have an icon-like quality to them, something engendered by the use of an Art Noveau style, with Alphonse Mucha being a particularly obvious reference; as is often the case. No slavish imitation, though, these are beautifully rendered in simple clear lines, with the figures sometimes set against clear space, but more often against decorative, esoterically-evocative backgrounds and frames, occasionally suggesting, to my eyes, stellar cartography. As devotional objects, these would work effectively in any Deharan praxis, such is their strength as numinous images.

The first version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana was first released in 2005 as a hardback edition, with this second edition from 2011 being a trade paperback. Constantine has since followed up Kaimana with two sequels to this grimoire, both in collaboration with Taylor Ellwood: the second book Ulani 2016, and the third, Nahir Nuri, in 2017. Both sequels are available in hardcover and paperback versions, with a new limited edition hardcover version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana also being released to match its scions.

Published by Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press


Review Soundtrack: Steve Roach & Byron Metcalf – The Serpent’s Lair

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Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire, runes, witchcraft

Angurgapi coverIn 2002, Strandagaldur, also known as the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, hosted the Exhibition of Sorcery and Witchcraft, which one assumes evolved into or contributed to the museum’s permanent exhibition. Shortly after the opening it became evident that there was a need for a short book on Icelandic sorcery and witchcraft, one that reflected the questions asked of museum staff by visitors Icelandic and foreign; especially given the dearth of texts on the subject outside of academia. Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland is exactly that. It is by no means a survey of the museum’s collection, for which there is now a catalogue, and instead gives a pithy and concise survey of Icelandic witchcraft, using the framing device of witch-hunts to delve a little deeper in places.

It is, though, the witch-hunts in Iceland that the book devotes much of its space to, beginning with a summary of several notable early cases. What immediately becomes clear is that contrary to the continental stereotype, it was men who received the most convictions for sorcery in Iceland, and not just any men but men of the cloth. In many cases, accusations of witchcraft seems to have gone hand in hand with clerical infidelity, with Rafnsson presenting several examples of priests who were accused of witchcraft as well as fathering children or engaging in adultery or sexual assault. Even Gottskálk Nikulásson, the last Catholic Bishop of Hólar from 1496 to 1520 (who had multiple mistresses and sired at least three children), was thought to be a sorcerer, and the author of an infamous grimoire called Rauðskinna.

One exception to this template, indeed its polar opposite, was Jón Guðmundsson the Learned, who, as his name suggests, was something of a 16th-century Icelandic Renaissance man, being a writer, artist, sculptor, and an observer and documenter of nature. He ran afoul of the authorities when he criticised the murder of a group of Basque whalers in the Westfjords, and this ultimately led to accusations of witchcraft when a book he had written was used as evidence of diabolism. Jón admitted to writing the now lost volume and defended it as a book of healing without any evil purpose. While the image of Jón as a polymath with inclinations towards natural philosophy would seemingly make authorship of a grimoire unlikely, a listing of the book’s sections preserved in court documents reveals not herbal cures, but spells of the type found in other black books: charms against elves, madness and fire, or spells for providing victory in war or against storms at sea, amongst others.

Spread including pages from Lbs. 1235, 8vo written by Jón Guðmundsson the Learned

It is these types of grimoires and their attendant spells and charms that figure largely in the Icelandic accounts of witchcraft, rather than the transvection, sabbats and other diabolical congregations of their continental colleagues. As Rafnsson notes, almost a third of the Icelandic witchcraft trials centre on the possession of grimoires and other examples of rendered magical staves, charms or sigils. While many of these have been destroyed (with court records documenting two instances of a punishment in which the guilty party was made to inhale the smoke of the burning pages), what has survived presents various interesting themes: a juxtaposition in references to pagan and Christian deities, the combination of continental influences with entirely indigenous elements such as magical staves, and the role played by copying in transmitting this information down through the years.

Spread with image of the codex Lbs. 143 8vo

What comes through clearly in the various accounts of witch trials is the sense of paranoia and fear prevalent at the time, where accusations of witchcraft often appear to be acts of self-preservation, where the accuser, even sheriffs and priests, could themselves easily become the accused. There is also a sense of disproportionate punishment, where admission of knowing and using a simple non-malicious charm could lead to exile or death. With some relief for the reader, Rafnsson does document the change in beliefs and values as society progressed, past cases were reassessed and found wanting (though small comfort to those who had been executed), and, as happened elsewhere, those who made accusations of witchcraft were increasingly more likely to be convicted for wasting the court’s time, rather than seeing their neighbours pilloried.

After a heart felt memoriam noting the loss of life and humiliation experienced by those accused of witchcraft, Angurgapi concludes with a little travelogue of the Icelandic witch-hunts, devoting four pages to various notable locations, each presented with a photo and a brief explanation. These help provide context to some of the accounts that have preceded it.

Rafnsson writes throughout Angurgapi in a clear, no-nonsense manner that is an effortless joy to read. Without much adornment, the facts are presented in a matter of fact but sympathetic manner that is surprisingly engaging. As such, Angurgapi achieves what it set out to do, providing a brief but by no means superficial survey of a topic for which there is still little thorough documentation of.

Spread including an image of AM 434d, 12mo, a grimoire measuring only 8x8.5cm

Angurgapi runs to a mere 85 pages but feels weightier due to the hardcover binding and wrap-around glossy cover (went a little overboard on the old Photoshop Texture filter there, folks). Inside, the pages are also glossy and colour images abound. These include beautiful scans of original manuscripts, principally spreads from grimoires, sourced from the National Library in Reykjavík. Text is formatted cleanly and confidently, albeit in nothing but humble Times, and there are little nice touches, like the overly large page numbers rendered in an uncial face. There is one reservation with the layout though, with the text alternating between three styling choices: body, block text and image captions. The block text, usually an addendum to something in the main text, are set in a grey box and styled at the same point size as the body, but with less, rather than more, of an indent. In some cases running to several pages long, they often awkwardly interrupt the main body and aren’t successfully identified as secondary in hierarchy. The same is true of image captions, which are rendered in an italicised face only a few point sizes smaller than the body, meaning that despite being centred and placed in relation to their respective image, the eye often reads them as if they are a continuation of the main text.

Since the release of Angurgapi in 2002, Strandagaldur have expanded their publishing, releasing the aforementioned catalogue, as well as various archival publications of grimoires: Tvær galdraskræður, a bilingual bringing together of two manuscripts, Lbs 2413 8vo and Lbs 764 8vo (aka Leyniletursskræðan); Lbs. 143,8vo (aka Galdrakver) as a two book boxset featuring a facsimile in one and translation in multiple languages in the other; and a complete facsimile edition of the galdrabók Rún with translation. All thoroughly recommended.

Published by Strandagaldur

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Liber Coronzom: An Enochian Grimoire – A.D. Mercer

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Categories: enochian, esotericism, grimoire, Tags:

Liber Coronzom coverReleased by Aeon Sophia Press, A.D. Mercer’s Liber Coronzom represents the first foray into matters Enochian for the Dutch publishing house. Its raison d’être is suggested in its very name, with Mercer intending to provide an authentic system of magic based on Dr John Dee’s records, rather than the adaptations made by the Golden Dawn and subsequently Aleister Crowley. Core to this authenticity is the name Coronzom, as it appears in Dee’s original hand, rather than the more familiar ‘Coronzon’ of Méric Causabon’s A True and Faithful Relation… or Crowley’s h-enhanced ‘Choronzon.’ Mercer spends some time documenting the instances where this name and its variants appear in the original documents, concluding with ‘Coronzom’ as the most accurate form. This is important as Mercer bases much of his system around the idea of Coronzom, calling it the Coronzomic Craft (and presumably not Cozonomic as it is also rendered in at least one instance).

After this preambulatory discussion of Coronzom, in which Mercer identifies him with Samael, the rest of Liber Coronzom follows and is divided into three books: Liber Hermetica, Liber Enochia and Liber Aethyrica. The first of these libers presents basic ritual techniques, variations of which will be familiar to anyone versed in western ceremonial magic: breathing exercises, white light visualisations, and a Golden Dawn pentagram-style ritual including the Kabbalistic Cross; as well as references to two specific, non-Enochian procedures: the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel and the Bornless Ritual. At the same time, Mercer says the link ‘of’ (by which, one assumes, ‘between’ is meant) Enochian and Kabbalistic magic must be severed for the Coronzomic workings to be successful; which makes one wonder, why have any of those elements in the first place.

In Liber Enochia the focus naturally turns to more Enochian matters and Mercer provides a discussion of the Enochian language, and a variety of procedures including the banishing of Enochian entities, the opening of the four watchtowers, and the summoning of the Governors. This largely creates the toolkit for the system presented here, with watchtower openings and brief little intoned Enochian invokations being the order of the day.

Mercer incorporates his own innovations to Dee and Kelley’s template, making ritual use of a three-sided blade (which in his case is the somewhat incongruous Tibetan phurpa), and introducing what is described as a heretofore unknown shortcut through Enochian magic’s system of aethyrs. While on the surface this makes you think of some hidden formula being decoded from amongst the Enochian elemental tablets or one of Kelley’s transmissions, it appears to be simply that, a shortcut, wherein the way to get to the final ten aethyrs is to skip the other twenty. Genius. The vehicle for this shortcut is provided by the angels of the tenth aethyr, Zax: Lexarph, Comanan, and Tabitom. As the names of these angels are found within the Black Cross that quadfurcates the Great Table, the arguments goes, you can open all four of the table’s watchtowers, invoke those angels, go directly to Zax, do not pass Zip, do not collect 200 pennies. As Zax is the aethyr in which Coronzom resides, having done this you now have instant access to the mighty devil of dispersion and with that, the experience of the Abyss. Coronzom himself turns out to be a bit of a pushover and after a brief invocation, he is overcome and it is revealed that… *spoilers*… wait for it… they were you all along – and they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling ceremonial magicians.

Once you have nimbly bypassed Coronzom, Liber Aethyrica follows and the final ten aethyrs from Zip to Lil are yours to explore… quickly. In fact, ‘explore’ might be too grand a word. Forget Crowley’s description of the aethyrs with all their fantastic landscapes and chimeric entities, these aethyrs are presented as briefly encountered, largely interchangeable zones that are passed through in brief, single-paragraph descriptions, always with a citadel in Lil in sight as a goal.

As suggested by the shock reveal of Coronzom as your bad self (get down with them), there is much in Liber Coronzom that is framed within a psychoanalytical paradigm, particularly the Jungian variant. Other reviews here at Scriptus Recensera attest to how your mileage may vary when it comes to this approach, and it comes off a little dated, recalling the heady days of the 1990s when magic as science was all the attempt-at-credibility rage.

Throughout Liber Coronzom, Mercer writes somewhat informally with a degree of confidence if not fluidity, with, for example, the initial discussion of Choronzon vs. Coronzom having a conversational tone as he explores the issue hand in hand with the reader. There are, though, little things that begin to irritate as the book progresses, making for an ultimately frustrating read. There is a preponderance of filler words, the first use of ‘at the end of the day’ that I’ve seen in a book in a long time, and a considerable number of sentences that begin with ‘And.’ There are also little words and phrases used inappropriately: ‘gambit’ is used where ‘ambit’ must surely be intended, ‘thou’ pops its archaic head up in one sentence, only to be followed by ‘you’ in the very same sentence, and there are repeated conflations of ‘affect’ with ‘effect.’ Commas are used inconsistently: in one instance creating a Shatner-esque staccato with their frequency, but are then almost entirely absent in other places; or in completely the wrong place in still others. Elsewhere, stray words are left in the middle of sentences, while instructions that begin by detailing what an anonymous adherent should do, abruptly get personal and start speaking directly to the ‘you’ that is the reader. This is without mentioning other misspellings, punctuation errors and the use of incorrect homophones that riddle the book, making for a mistake on almost every two pages. This is all symptomatic of a complete lack of proofing, and makes it feel like you’re reading a first draft. It would have been beneficial to have an editor act as a brutal gardener to cut some of the redundancies, solecisms and erratum. Maybe they would have caught things like the titles that in two instances refer to things being ‘Enochain.’

There are multiple editions of Liber Coronzom including one as a high quality hardcover with a full colour cover, wrapped to front and back, featuring Henry Gillard Glidoni’s painting John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I. The deluxe edition features black end paper, gold foil lettering to front cover and spine on a full black leather bound hardcover. A further devotee edition is limited to thirteen exemplars and has black end papers, a quarter grey goatskin leather bound over hand-marbled paper, and 23 kr gold decorations to the back and front cover and the spine. It is housed in a solander box, bound in full Italian grey cloth. And then there’s the X-Series edition limited to 50 exemplars and bound in blue cloth but with the cover featuring the same gold foiled title and design as the deluxe edition.

The version reviewed here, though, is none of these and is, it would appear, an iteration of the standard cloth-bound edition, with a blue cloth blinding and a foiled decagram on the cover, limited to 200 exemplars. I add the caveat of ‘it would appear’ as the current standard edition available from the Aeon Sophia Press website, also with only 200 exemplars, is now a black cloth version, with no decagram on the front and just the title rendered in a foiled blackletter Killigrew face.

Published by Aeon Sophia Press

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