Category Archives: occultism

History Of Magic * Eliphas Levi (isbn 0877289298)

Histoire de la Magie

For only E 2,50 ($ 3,-) I bought a German translation of this book. History and Levi, this is an impossible combination which proves in this book. Levi starts with a history. The oldest kind of magic in the world of Levi is Kabbalah, but he calls the ancient tradition Kabbalah and does not necessarily refer to Jewish magic. Levi has a strange order: India, Hermetica, Greece, Pythagoras, Kabbalah. After this he speaks about some magicians, practises, mythology, freemasonry, etc. Alright, but I would not recommand this book if you are looking for a serious history of magic. Still, because of the name Levi, this book is a standard book about the subject.

The Golden Dawn * Israel Regardi (isbn 0875426638)

The main reason for me buying this book was to complete my ‘magical library’. I have magical texts from different times, so I thought I could not leave out Golden Dawn. Regardi compiled official papers to a massive book as a guide of Golden Dawn magic. After endless introductions, but book continues with theory (an extremely high level of information) and rituals. You can do a step-by-step course through the different grades of the order. My personal interest was mostly to see how much of the older magic I could trace back in the system of the Golden Dawn. I found less medieval magic than I expected and John Dee is only treated at the end of the book, in much detail again I might add. I didn’t study the rituals, let alone try them out, I am at best an ‘armchair magician’ interest in the subject of magic. The theoretical parts thrive mostly on Kabbalah and sometimes more Eastern/Theosophical theories. I didn’t find much obvious mistakes. All in all the early teachers of the Golden Dawn managed to build a very structured, original and rather organised magical system out of older systems and in this book you will find all/most information about it and your complete ‘how to guide’. The book comes with a gigantic index, because it is also intended to be used as encyclopedia for both users and investigators.
A book that belongs in every library of people interested in magic, also when you are not into the Golden Dawn.

John Dee’s Five Books Of Mystery * Joseph H. Peterson (ed.) (1578631785)

The second half of the magical diaries of John Dee. Peterson gave them in the original old-style English, which does not read very well. The very detailed discriptions of skrying-sessions aren’t even that interesting. What is interesting is that things become a lot clearer with Tyson’s book Enochian Magic For Beginners and you of course get all the details. Anyway, 475 pages of magic, too much to mention. More about the system in my article about angel magic.

Arbatel of Magick (fbn press)

This booklet caused me to find the FBN Ebay page. There are very luxery editions of this text, but here we have one of only $ 5,-. The “Arbathel” (in the Hebrew letters on the cover) “of the magic of the ancients”, “the greatest studie of wisdom” is of course a well-known late Medieval magical text. Here we have the 1655 Robert Turner translation who also wrote an introduction. In 7×7 aphorisms you get a theoretical lesson in Medieval magic with a thick Christian sauce.

The Book Of Ceremonial Magic * Arthur Edward Waite (isbn 1853263559)

I don’t understand why someone would republish a book as famous as Waite’s Ceremonial Magic under a different title. I bought this book as The Wordsworth Book Of Spells in which Wordsworth is of course the publisher. This is Waite’s 1911 famous book about magic and is definately a much better history of magic than Levi’s book under this title. Already early in the book it becomes obvious that Waite is working towards black magic. He distincts white and black, but keeps emphasizing that black magic is mostly a myth and that there is too much overlap to tell them apart. He treats a couple of famous texts at length, some even translation in its entirety. Very nice elaborations of texts such as the Arbatel Of Magic, the larger and smallers keys of Solomon and blacker works such as the Grimorium Verum and the Grimoire Of Honorius can be found. Waite compares the texts, says where are crossbreeds in information, rituals, names, etc. The last part is ‘the complete grimoire’ with detailed information about rituals and translations of texts. Here Waite really works towards the blackest of black magic.

Some people say that Waite proves himself as a black magician working with sacrifices involving human sacrifice, others says that Waite wrote this work as an anti-magic book. Things can be said for both theories. The rituals and explanations are detailed enough to bring people the idea to do their own experiments, but also Waite is often very sceptical and ironical.

All in all an interesting work speaking about the best-known magical texts from the Middle Ages, also showing sides that other writers prefer to avoid. Detailed enough to continue your investigations or compare Waite to other writers, but not always too clearly written.

Three Books Of Occult Philosophy * Donald Tyson (transl.) (isbn 0875428320 * 1994)

De Occulta Philosophia * Henry Cornelius Agrippa * 1533

I had read quite a lot about this book and its writer and I have paged through this translation more than once, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally got a copy. To review!

H.C. Agrippa from Nettesheim can be regarded as the summum of the Renaissance occult tradition. Like most of his colleagues he saw himself as a good Christian being involved in good magic. This last he pushed to the limits which is the reason why he had such a bad name. Like many of his predecessors Agrippa combined the Christian Cabala of Giovani Pico (from Mirandola) and especially that of his master Johann Reuchlin with the angelic magic of Trithemius and the hermetic tradition that followed after Marsilio Ficino’s translations of the major hermetic scriptures.
Also in Agrippa’s vision creation can be divided in three worlds and this division is reflected in the three parts that the english title refers to. First there is the elemental world and the first book is about the natural magic in the Ficino-tradition. It involves the cooperation with natural forces to reach a certain goal by using talismans and musical incantations. This is in contradiction to the more “strong” magic concerning the using of these forces. The second world is the celestial world and the second book is about celestial magic. Here you can think of mathematics, music, optics, astromony, numerology and the summoning of angels. The last world is the supercelestial or intellectual world and the third book deals with ceremonial magic.

Already in 1651 the first and the last translation in English appeared and this translation of Donald Tyson is the first in 350 years. Agrippa himself is said to be quite sloppy at times, but the first English translation was full of mistakes. Tyson took up the work to clear “De Occulta Philosophia” and especially its english translation from mistakes. The backcovers claims to give you the seals and images how they were meant which is already something in itself, but there is much much more!

The book opens with a short intro and a long biography of Agrippa. Then follows the translation of book I with its 74 chapters which are all no longer than three pages. The notes of Tyson are often longer. He searched for the sources of the quotes and references and tried to explain obscure sentences.
Book II has 60 chapters also of modest length, but this book contains a lot of images. Strangely enough there are a lot of images of people who lived after Agrippa, especially Robert Fludd and keeping a few discriptions of Agrippa’s work in mind, I get the idea that some of the original drawings of Agrippa are left out or replaced!
Book III has 65 chapters which are almost all very short, but here and there 3 or 4 pages.

Three letters of Agrippa are followed by chapters 41 to 48 of another work of Agrippa called “De Incertitude et Vanitate Scientiarum” or “about the uncertainty and vanity of sciences”. In this book Agrippa writes about magic and the occult in a cynical (but informative) way and was meant to keep the inquisition a bit on a distance.

Then come 8 appendices of Donald Tyson wonderfully explaining subjects such as magic squares, the practical kabbalah or geomancy more fully.

51 Pages with a biographical dictionary, 13 pages with a geographical dictionary, an ordered list with quotes from the Bible and apocryphia and the 63 pages general index!

The translation is well-readable, but as you may expect of a magical book from the Renaissance, this is no easy-reading book. Sometimes Agrippa speaks of a subject at length, often pretty short. This book is and remains a studybook, but is also a wonderfull reference-work which gives this book a right for existence until today.

Check out www.llewellyn.com for similar works.

The Magus – A Complete System Of Occult Philosophy * Francis Barrett (isbn 0877289425)

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.

The Lesser Key Of Solomon * Joseph H. Peterson (isbn 157863220X)

The Lesser Key Of Solomon

Here we probably have the best possible version of the Lemegeton put together by Joe Peterson of esotericarchives.com and avesta.org. Peterson compared various manuscripts of the texts that can be found in the British Library. He opens with detailed information and then has the four books with all their images. In notes he marks when names are spelled differently in other manuscripts. Peterson sticked to the old English with the many typos and strange abreviations of the handwriters. Not too readable, but ‘authentic’ so to say. However Peterson has an index, he didn’t include the names of the spirits, which is a bit of a pity. All in all a very nice book, also visually, and as I opened, probably the best publishing available.
2001 weiser books, isbn 157863220X
-24/2/04-

The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation * Hans Dieter Betz (isbn 0226044475)

A while ago I started to write an article about the ‘Papyri Graecae Magica’. This article could not be finished without this complete English translation with its marvelous introduction. A minor point is that there is only the translation, while my German Merkelbach/Totti has both the Greek text and the German translation, but then not of all texts. The Betz translation does have all texts that were known in his 1996 (second edition). Betz (of course) draws upon the complete German version of Preisendanz, but not only the Greek texts, but also the Demotic. Earlier translations left out the Demotic texts, even thought the Greek and the Demotic texts are sometimes on the same papyri. Roughly said the Greek texts are more magical, the Demotic more practical (often medical). All in all there are almost 100 papyri, some longer, some only a few lines or even only a (letter)figure.

The texts themselves are a hard read. They are texts with a lot of strange incantations (so called “voces magicae”), which seem to be Egyptian written in Greek letters, but half of the words are names of gods, demons, sometimes recognisable, sometimes strangely combined. The incantations are sometimes written in letter-figures (like the Kabbalistic tetragrammaton-triangle Y-YH-YHV-YHVH), sometimes within drawings, but Betz does not often give them in such a form.

Still the PGM are extremely interesting. I suppose that they are written in Alexandria. They mix Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Gnostic and Babylonian magic, so you get a good idea of what was known in the multicultural city of Alexandria. Many names of gods are used right through eachother. Egyptian gods such as Thoth, Isis, Horus, Anubis; Jewish gods like the very popular Iao (YHVH), Sabaoth or the archangels Michael, Raphael and the like; the Gnostic god Abraxas is one the the most popular in the papyri, but also Sophia is sometimes mentioned; then we have of course Greek gods like Zeus or Hekate and Olympus is mentioned more than once; even Babylonian gods like Ereshigal are not forgotten. Besides all this we have typical PGM gods like Ablanathanalba (there is a preference for palingdromes) and the mysterious headless god. My personal interest further has Mithra(s), who is mentioned here and there and one text is called ‘the Mithras liturgy’ by investigators (PGM IV 475-829) of who some think it really was what the title says (the text is very kindred to the other PGM though).

Also interesting is the fact that the texts are obviously a collection made by one of more persons who has been looking for and tested the spells. Remarks such as “another” (spell of this kind), “I know”, “tested” nicely prove this. The texts have been discovered in our own time in two large sections that have been bought by different museums and later many separate texts have come to light and still do, so it is hard to say how many ancient collectors there have been.

The magic itself is also worth studying. It is obvious where Medieval magic has its sources when the PGM speak of amulets, spells, gods of the hours of the day and night, preparations, equipment, the use of (parts of) animals, incense, herbs, etc. The magic in the PGM is of a very practical nature. They contain many love-spells and spells for the benefit of the magician, diseases or business. Further there are nonsense spells like “to make man who have [been] drinking at a sympion appear to have donkey snouts to outsiders, from afar” (PGM XIb 1-5).
What is also interesting is that PGM XIII 1-343 is called “eight key of Moses” where we know Medieval grimoires under the titles “sixth” and “seventh book of Moses”. Further there are references to the unknown “key of Moses” and an Hermetic book called “Wing”. Also there are symbols that remind a bit of Enochian.

What I don’t know much about myself is that it is said that authentic Greek and Egyptian folkbeliefs can be found in the texts, so also for anthropologists these texts are interesting.

For more information see my article.

The Magic Shield: A Manual of Defense Against the Dark Arts * Francis Melvile (isbn 0764157272)

This is most strange. A while ago a luxery printed “The Secrets Of High Magic” was made available in Dutch through the cheap bookshops in the witchy witches and new age section. I didn’t think this was a very good idea, because this book is a simple, but detailed manual of the more serious kinds of magic. Now that everyone has gotten into problems by trying everything out, a translation of “The Magic Shield” is published in Dutch in a similar book: fake leather and cut to look old. This book is to protect you against the people who learned themselves the possibilties of the previous book. Yet, again it is well written, highly informative, understandable and it comes with an index. Well, better this book in the regular bookshop than the other one.