The British Book of Spells & Charms, by Graham King (Review)

Since we began seeing each other, Sfinga and I decided that one of our Valentine’s day traditions would be exchanging books. This last one, I got her a copy of Stephen Skinner and David Rankine’s A Cunning Man’s Grimoire, and she gifted me the special edition of Graham King’s The British Book of Spells and Charms. Today, I would like to briefly review this wonderful little book which, in addition to being a thoughtful gift I treasure, is genuinely an excellent addition to any folk magic library.

Sfinga’s picture of her paperback with True Black Magic.

Published by the always-impressive Troy Books, the special edition is really a feast for the eyes, bound in red cloth with bronze foil backing, the cover graced with a Mars talisman; my preferred planetary power of choice. The binding is tight and the paper quality superb. A quick flip-through reveals numerous illustrations and photographs from Cecil Williamson’s collection from the Museum of Witchcraft. Needless to say, I was in love with the little book as soon as I first laid eyes on it, and fortunately the material inside did not disappoint.

The text opens with the classic charm: “Rain rain, go away, come again another day”—which I can still to this day remember being taught in English Nursery school—flanking an upturned horseshoe. The introduction reflects on the fiercely syncretic and non-discriminatory nature of folk magic, which devours any source it finds and attunes them to the needs of the user. The analysis in this section was particularly thought provoking for me, especially when I began to mentally compare this fluidity within folk magic with the staunch conservatism of early modern ritual magic. As is the case for the entire book, the writing is littered with colourful illustrations and quality photographs from the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall.

The book moves on after the introduction to a collection of typical protection and good-luck charms. The one that struck me the most was the example of the more recent “Fums Up” charms, which you can see in the image above. These were apparently common during the First World War, carried by soldiers who were often gifted them by their lovers for luck. Sea urchin fossils/Faery Loaves, thunder-stones, hag stones, witch bottles, and all sorts of other artifacts are included in the chapter. I think it is perhaps this section of the book that most British people, including those who do not practice magic, would be familiar with, as we encounter the horseshoes and rowan crosses so closely tied to British folk-ways.

We also see a considerable number of verbal and written charms throughout the book, which are, alongside the illustrations, one of its biggest selling points as a reference text. Many of them were already fairly well-known to me, such as Isobel Gowdie’s “The Muckle maister Deil tak what’s atween dis twa hands!” and the numerous variations on the classic “three ladies” or “three angels” anti-burn charm, such as:

“There were three angels flying over the West
One cried Fire, the other cried Frost
The other was the Holy Ghost
Out fire, in Frost, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Other charms however were rarer, including some I have never seen before. In particular, the charms from Cecil Williamson’s personal collection include a number of very interesting exemplars; most notable perhaps being anti-Hitler sorceries from the 1940s. One fairly humerous example is that of a Hitler-themed pin cushion, used to afflict the dictator with all manner of ills. This fascinating example of effigy magic deployed for political purposes is quite evocative of the survival of the practical, folk magic mindset well into the Second World War, despite their otherwise widespread erosion.

The rest of the text is divided into a number of different sections, with examples of love divinations and spells, curses and healing techniques, and even magical folk-songs and dances. Each of these sections is filled with a considerable number of different charms, which are thankfully meticulously sourced in the footnotes. The sheer number of examples, in addition to their thorough cataloging, makes this work invaluable as a reference text for British folk magic, allowing us track down any that particularly catch our fancy. Another example that stuck out to me is that of a mole’s foot in a red bag, hung over the mantle. When a member of the household comes to suffer from a toothache, the bag is retrieved and worn around the neck until the pain is healed. In the final section, a “Magical Medley” of miscellaneous spells, there is even a short technique to ensure that your child will be a talented singer: all that is needed is to bury their first nail-parings under an ash tree and they will be granted the gift of song.

This little text is truly quite dear to me, both as a gift and as a reference work on one of my favourite topics of study. It is a fine collection of folk magic practices and techniques, full of historical curiosities and practical inspiration for my craft. I can’t pretend I’m not currently looking around for my own little “Fums Up!” figure as well! You can pick up your own copy in the numerous editions available on the Troy books website.

Advertisements

Doctor Faust’s Mightiest Sea Spirit (Review)

The Faustian genre of early modern literary ritual magic is a particular passion of mine, and has long been my preferred family of early modern magical texts. Staying true to the tradition of pseudonymous authors, these texts present a fascinating family of ritual magic approaches and methodologies, with surprising variety in technique. As such, I will be regularly reviewing texts relating to Faust, and the “Faustian Tradition”—whether those texts are translations of primary source material, academic monographs and studies on the figure of Faust, or analysis of the literary tradition and folklore that sprung from him. Today, I will be looking at the fascinating Doctor Faust’s Mightiest Sea Spirit, published by Enodia Press.

This book is a great example of what I love about the Faustian genre. Each of the selected texts that are translated within the book has about it a unique feel, and an explicit purpose that Nicolás Álvarez, the translator, brings together with impressive zeal.

Photo credits: Sfinga.

The binding of the book is excellent. I’m not a professional binder (though I’d love to learn the art one day) and I generally tend not to be too hung up on the editions of my texts. But there is something to be said about a beautiful production and this book certainly fulfills that criteria. The deep blue colour contrasts nicely with the silver lettering on the spine of the book, as well as the silver magic circle from one of the translations on the front cover. I’m not always keen on the choices Enodia makes when it comes to the images they affix to the front covers of their publications, however this particular one is beautiful and elegant. The design choices make for an attractive book, and the quality of the binding is more than satisfactory.

As for the contents of the book, we begin with Nicolás’ introduction in which he briefly details the history of the texts he has translated while also touching on the general history and character of the Faustian tradition. Where the introduction shines, however, is in its commentary regarding Sea Spirits and Early Modern German demonology, as well as their connection with spirits from other texts, particularly the devils of Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum. Nicolás shows his broad knowledge of ritual magic texts here, carefully drawing connections and ties between shared literary lineages without being overzealous in doing so, as some modern authors are wont to do.

The next part of the introduction features an assessment of the ritual itself contained in the Meergeist. It begins by discussing the faculty of imagination in early modern magical practice, citing Dr. Elizabeth Butler (author of Ritual Magic and Fortunes of Faust) on the fascinating influence of the imagination as it pertains to our text. He then summarizes the theories of a number of early modern and medieval occult authors and natural philosophers on the role of imagination as a spiritual faculty. While I don’t necessarily fully agree with the conclusions that Nicolás reaches here as far as imagination being the chief faculty by which spirit contact occurs, he backs up his argument with primary source material and presents his perspective with erudition.

Once the “Inner Ritual” has been discussed the author moves on to the “Outer Ritual”, or the part of the procedure which would be more familiar to readers of early modern magical texts. The analysis of the ritual is concrete, referencing what about it is unique while also drawing parallels to other magical texts.

After the introduction, the main translation of the Meergeist is given, and it is here that the real bounty of the book begins. The text provides instructions for the conjuration of Lucifer and a number of his chief demonic vassals, in order that the magician may coerce him to bring treasure from out of the sea and into his hands. Where the ritual diverges from the standard procedures of its genres is in the literal dialogue between the magician and the spirit. This moment is somewhat reminiscent of the Greek Magical Papyri spells in which the God brings other spirits to feast and converse with the magician. In a similar manner, the magician converses with Lucifer and his Officers, making his demands. I won’t spoil the dialogue itself, but it was certainly a fascinating read. Not only that, but the descriptions of the vision evoke a sense of infernal beauty and terror. It reads almost like a horror novel, as a seven headed serpent is described to “arise to taste the constant demeanor of he who requests treasures,” while brimstone burns against the backdrop of a ghostly ship manifesting.

That being said, the practicality of the ritual itself makes it difficult to perform. Numerous magicians are required to be present, wearing different coloured clothing. While this may be simple enough, the materia can easily pose a challenge. The operation requires three gallows’ chains and the nails from a breaking wheel (a torture device) that have “sliced through the skin of someone broken [on it]”. I am not someone who balks at hunting for rare materia in the slightest, but this particular requirement makes performing the operation difficult to say the least. Naturally, I’m sure one would be able to ask their spirit allies to facilitate their acquisition of these nails, both monetarily as well as in the practical search.

After the Meergeist, we move on to the translation of Darmstadt MS 831, or the Conjuration and Call of the Sea Spirit Quirumandani. This is my personal favourite part of the text, and it has never before been previously published. There is, according to the author, no information on this text that has been published so far, with the only mention of the spirit Quirumandani being a brief comment on a paper-strip in possession of the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek.

The actual ritual process of this text is fairly short and simplistic. A basic circle is given, and the ritual instructions are not overly complicated. Certainly it is a ritual that is more than doable, and I do intend to perform it at some point. The function of the operation is to obtain a Familiar Spirit who will protect and teach the magician. The nature of this spirit, or rather its attitude towards the conjurer, is never explicitly stated outside of the fact that it is a Spirit of the Sea who appears in the form of an old, grey man. But given that the spirit is told to protect the one who it pacts with, it seems at the very least ambivalent rather than outright malefic as many spirits of Faustian ritual magic texts tend to be.

There are many things which I love about this text, including the ritual techniques wherein the magician literally stands upon the spirits’ seals in order to subjugate him. The use of a sea shell, to which the spirit is bound, is also a fascinating technique and one I look forward to exploring in my own magical practice when I finally get to engage with this spirit. It also gives details of the particular method in which one makes the pact with the spirit, something that the Faustian genre of magical texts certainly does well. (Magia Naturalis also contains detailed descriptions of how the pacts are formed).

The next text that is translated for us is the Veritable Jesuit Coercion of Hell. This text is similar in nature to the Verus Jesuitarum Libellus (which may be found here on Esoteric Archives) in that it chiefly consists of a long conjuration to be performed in order to obtain treasure—in this case, from the sea. This relationship to the True Petition of the Jesuits is mentioned by Nicolás in the introduction to the translation. The author notes that the circle given in the English translation is his interpretation of a poorly drawn original; however the original circle is fortunately still given in Appendix II of the German version. It is a relatively straight-forward and brief text and feels somewhat out of place when compared with the unique elements of the others within the book. That said, I really am just so pleased that we are getting translations in the first place, and the simplicity of this ritual is an appeal in and of itself for those who prefer such ceremonies.

The final translation is the Arcanum Experientia Praetiosum. Due to the lack of connection to Sea Spirits or Sea Treasure this text is in the appendix rather than being its own chapter. However, its contents are a rare example of ritual magic dream incubation, much like the “Operation to bring three ladies” to your room in the Verum/Grimoire of Pope Honorious. As such, it is a welcome addition to the host of magical texts in the English language and an experiment I look forward to attempting.

There are two versions of this text, one with a specific spirit as the target and the other as a general operation. Both versions are thankfully provided, so as to give us a complete picture. The ritual method given is simple, and in the first the seal of the spirit is provided along with his number of legions and rank (prince) while the second is intended to be used with any spirit. The spirit is then conjured, and his seal hung from the window and lashed in order to subjugate him. The ritual implies, as Nicolás points out, that the spirits should then appear in the dreams of the magician following the successful operation.

The final part of the appendix is a transcript of the original German texts. This is valuable for those who can read the language (like a certain Sfinga can) though sadly I myself don’t speak it, so I cannot yet comment on this part of the book.

In conclusion, this text is an excellent addition to any magician’s bookshelf, and Enodia Press has done an outstanding job in bringing this to the wider occult community. This edition is limited to 500 copies and can be purchased on the Enodia Press website.