I found this photographic reprint of the 1801 first pressing of this book at Amazon. What you can get there, eh?
Anyway, I hoped for a summery of occult philosophy from say 1600 to 1800 including thinkers such as Agrippa, Reuchlin, Dee, Paracelcus, &c., but reading the book it proves to be more of a magical book than a philosophical one.
This work actually consisted of two books, one book about natural magic and one about ceremonial magic. Book one for example deals with amulets, charms, alchemy and numerology. Book two with subjects like magnetism, witchcraft, cabalistical magic, magic circles and seals, &c.
Later book three was added with biographies of the great occultists of history, such as Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Apollonius of Tyana, Aristotle, Bacon, Lully, Paracelcus, Dee, &c.
However this book is relatively thin -about 375 pages- it contains a massive amount of information and when you want to get ‘valuable’ information from it, this will definately require attentive reading and study.
In the beginning I had the idea that Barrett didn’t want to publish a book from which anyone could destill his / her personal favourite spells and magic. Just to randomly quote a few lines from book I, part I: “Rhubarb, on account of its violent antipathy to choler, wonderfully purges the same. Music is well-known specific for curing the bite of a tarantula, or any venomous spider; likewise, water cures the hydrophobia. Warts are cured by paring off the same; or by burying as many pebbles, secretly, as the party has warts. The king’s-evil may be cured by the heart of a toad worn about the neck, first being dried.– Hippomanes excites lust by the bare touch, or being suspended on the party. If one shall spit in the hand with which he struck, or hurt, another so shall the wound be cured; –likewise, if any one shall draw the halter wherewith a malefactor was slain across the throat of one who hath the quinsey, it certainly cures him in three days; –also, the herb cinque-foil being gathered before sun-rise, one leaf thereof cures the argue of one day; three leaves, cures the tertian; and four, the quartan ague.” (book I p. 29). Barrett continues like this for pages and pages.
The part about alchymy isn’t too eye-opening either and is mostly in the same style as above.
A large part is reserved for talismanic magic, the making of them and similar kinds of potions and spells as in the quote above. The numerological part is quite interesting though, with tables and explanations of the numbers one (“unity”) to twelve, with names of God in several worlds, relations to planets, constellations, (arch)angels, devils, senses, stones, elements, &c., &c.
Also the (rather short) explanation of Hebrew and runic (?) signs and symbols is alright and around the end magical tables, seals and characters that help to explain the seals of the spirits of the Goetia (not dealt with in this book though).
Also astrological explanations of for example the mansions and ruling angels, images of the Zodiac and the images of the planets are dealt with in length.
Book two is as chaotic as the previous pages. The part about the Cabala definately requires some descent background knowledge, but also more deals with the names of God and the powers thereof than with gematria, notaricon or temura and strangely enough, Barrett doesn’t even depict a Sephirotic tree. He is definately more interested in magical seals and spells.
I also wonder what the largest part of his chapter about the Cabala has to do with it, with depictions of “heads of evil damons”, “the order of evil spirits, their fall, and different nature”, “the speaking of angels”, &c.
But later on, some rather helpfull tables again and a quite interesting piece about the (arch)angels, tables to get their names and summon them (but I don’t think you will be able to get enough information about that from this book), some “mysterious characters”, construction of seals (again) and then again less interesting subjects such as excorcism.
Then follows a more practical part, that I paged through quickly, since I have no interest in that whatsoever, but if you are, you will get about 50 pages, with rituals, invocations, &c.
The last book has the mentioned occult biographies of notorious men from the past. All summeries from what Barrett found in historical works and most biographies only cover one or two pages.
As you may remember I mentioned that this is a photographic reprint of the first printing of this book. You may wonder about the language, but English of 200 years ago, doesn’t differ that much from modern English (especially not when you compare Dutch of then and now). Of course there are words that I didn’t know, but I also have that with modern English. The reading is no real problem. The only fairly irritating thing is that many “s”‘s are written with a letter that looks an awfull lot like an “f”, which you will have to get used to. This looks a bit like this: “The Sun difpofes even the very fpirit and mind of man, which Homer fays, and is approved by Ariftotle, that there are in the mind fuch like motions as the Sun, the prince and moderator of the planets, brings to us every day; but the Moon, the neareft to the earth, the receptacle of all the heavenly influences, by the fwiftnefs of her courfe, is joined to the Sun, and the other planets and ftars, every month; and receiving the beams and influences of all the other planets and ftars, as a conception, bringing then forth to the inferior world, as being next to itfelf; for all the ftars have influence on it, being the laft receiver, which afterwards communicates the influence of all fuperiors to thefe inferiors, and pours them forth on the earth; and it more manifeftly difpofes thefe inferiors than others.” (p 152-153) Get the idea? The combination “ct” is printed with a symbol that I can’t reproduce on my computer.
Anyway, I got used to it pretty quickly, but words like “fun”, “flower”, “foil”, “fee”, &c. need an extra stop sometimes.
Shortly about the writer. Judging this book Barrett was a Christian and probably even with an antropomorphical God-view. Since he was from the UK, I expect him to be a Protestant. And no matter how interested he was in magic and sorcery and describes the summoning of evil spirits, his view on magic is best described by his own words from page 170 of book II (III): “applying the word magic to fumblime and good fciences, not to prophane and devilifh arts.”
He seems to have been well-read and surely knew most of the magical and occult classics of his time from “Poimandres” (one of the the oldest Hermetic texts) to Agrippa’s “De Occulta Philosophia” (which seems to have a great influence on Barrett).
Conclusion: if you are looking for a summery of the occult philosophy until the time of Barrett, you won’t find what you were looking for getting “The Magus”. If you are interested in magic, talismans, sacred seals, &c., you may give book a try.
It seems that Amazon has both a limited (475 copies) edition of Weiser Books (that I got) and a (more expensive) not limited version.
The reprint is well done and the few colour plates that are to be found are said to have been reprinted with the newest techniques.