Category Archives: Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition

The Keys to the Gateway of Magic

J S Kupperman reviews The Keys to the Gateway of Magic: Summoning the Solomonic Archangels and Demon Princes [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Stephen Skinner and David Rankine in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Skinner Rankine The Keys to the Gateway of Magic Summoning the Solomonic Archangels and Demon Princes

Keys to the Gateway of Magic is the second of Skinner and Rankine’s “Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic” series, following their first book on the angel magic of John Dee. The goal of this series is to provide transcriptions of important manuscripts on Renaissance ceremonial magic. This makes the “Sourceworks” series an important source for primary source material for those studying Renaissance magic.

Keys consists of transcriptions from Harley MS 6482 and Sloane MSS 3628, 3821, 3824 and 3825 from the British Museum and Rawlinson MS D.1363 from the Bodleian Library. In simpler terms it is a collection of three texts on angelic and demonic evocation; Janua Magica Reserta (Keys to the Gateway of Magic), Dr. Thomas Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels with their Invocations to Visible Appearance and The Demon Princes. Each of these texts appears to have been extremely influential not only during the period when they were written but also in centuries to come; those familiar with the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn will find many of the correspondences presented in these texts to be quite familiar.

Janua Magica Reserta, the first of the texts transcribed by the editors, consists of several different sections. These sections deal with diverse subjects ranging from magical aphorisms to the nature of the human soul and its relation to the Earth to the nature of angels, demons and other spirits such as fairies and Robin Goodfellows, not necessarily subjects one would expect to find in a manuscript on ceremonial magic.

The second book, Dr. Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels with their Invocations to Visible Appearance is a practical answer to the theoretical information provided in Janua. Hierarchies begins with “The Directory”, which consists of numerous evocations for the summoning of spirits; good, bad or in between, it is interesting to note that there are no differences between the evocations used to call angels and those used to call demons. The text also instructs the magician in ways to test the spirits that have been evoked to see if they are what they say they are. The final section presents nine celestial keys or calls used to evoke the archangels of the Kabbalistic sefirot, along with their seals or signs. As with the previous section the nine calls, each of which being about four pages long and consisting of a single sentence, are identical, with only the specifics of the angels being changed. There is also a tenth key that appears to be a later addition that differs from the previous keys in tone and does not include a seal. The information on the sefirotic angles will be quite familiar with modern ceremonial magicians and appears to be a source for much of the Golden Dawn’s understanding of those great angels.

The Demon Princes is the final, as well as shortest, part of Keys. Princes arms the magician with information about not only the three primary fallen spirits; Lucifer, Beelzebub and Sathan, two of which can actually be evoked, but also the divers spirits that serve beneath Sathan, the four kings of the air; Oriens, Paymon, Egyn and Amaymon. Following these four kings are the numerous spirits who act as their ministers and messengers. Thus Princes is similar in nature to the Goetia, though there are some notable differences such as a complete lack of seals or magic circles. It does however provide lengthy evocations similar in nature to both those found in the Goetia as well as those found in Hierarchies.

The editors do a fine job in their transcriptions; notes are provided to tell the reader where differences between manuscripts occur and they even go so far as to use red ink in places were the original manuscripts used red ink, usually for heading titles or the names of spirits. While I was disappointed to see only facsimiles of the angelic seals, which were often unreadable in places, and no cleaned up versions for ease of reading, this was not a major concern. The readability of the overall text, combined with the numerous notes, more than make up for this.

However the introduction, as well as a few notes and comments on some of the bibliographical material were of concern. The editors present a great deal of historical information, some correct, some not, that while interesting is not always useful. Richard Keickhefer’s Magic in the Middle Ages does in fact provide a much more comprehensive view of medieval magic. While some of the background information on the personae dramatis of the period is interesting they fail to support a number of the theories they present with actual evidence, many of their conclusions come through inference instead. Finally, in a multi-page dissertation on how demons are true entities and not simply psychological constructs, along with attacks on modern psychology appear to be more of a rant than a scholarly discourse; while these assertions may in fact be true the editors are far from able to prove it and simply attacking those who feel otherwise is less than persuasive. Their views also fail to take into account the records of pre-Christian philosophers who were of the opinion that such entities were figments of the mind.

For the most part Keys to the Gateway of Magic will only be of interest to those who want to study primary source material, with its Christian theology and moralizing, long invocations and complete lack of modern banishing techniques. Keys to the Gateway of Magic presents a type of occultism that will be foreign to many practicing occultists today, however it will also show where much of modern occultism comes from. Even with the issues surrounding the editors’ introduction, the transcription makes the purchase of the book worthwhile, though the price makes such a purchase somewhat daunting. For anyone interested in the history of ceremonial magic Keys to the Gateway of Magic is a must have that I greatly recommend.

Forbidden Rites

“Aaron Jason” Leitch reviews Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Richard Kieckhefer, part of the Magic in History series, in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Kieckhefer Forbidden Rites

Without a doubt, Penn State Press’ Magic in History series is the finest line of books on medieval occult literature produced to date. I have enjoyed reading each book in the series – not the least of which is Professor Kieckhefer’s Forbidden Rites. Whether you are a scholar examining the esotericism of medieval Europe, or a practitioner following a similar modern tradition, you will benefit immensely from a study of this book.

Professor Kieckhefer’s book is unique in that it does not attempt to gather and cross-compare a large number of medieval grimoires, which is the more common method – as we see in texts like Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic or my own work on the Solomonic cycle. Instead, the Professor dedicated Forbidden Rites to a single, and very obscure, German manuscript. Because the first couple of pages are missing, the name of the grimoire, as well as its author, is lost to history. Kieckhefer simply refers to it by its catalogue designation: Codex Latinus Monacensis 849 (CLM 849), or the more romantic title The Munich Handbook of Necromancy.

I find the scope of this book reaches far beyond one simple manuscript. As the Professor leads us through the spells of the Munich Handbook, we get to learn something about the life and shifting interests of a working medieval mage. In every chapter, Kieckhefer draws from an array of related medieval records – most of them anecdotes about magick, and even Inquisitorial court records – to illustrate the culture within which our anonymous German mage worked.

Professor Kieckhefer begins Forbidden Rites with an essay on the magick-book in medieval occultism. I found this information absolutely fascinating, as it is a neglected subject in nearly all modern studies of Solomonic mysticism. Of course, there are plenty of books about the contents of the grimoires, but there is precious little that explains the books themselves as living magickal beings. Meanwhile, Kieckhefer shares medieval anecdotes about grimoires that scream when burned, or spirits who accost the unwary who merely open such a book. He explains how a grimoire must be consecrated and kept as a magickal tool in its own right – as something of a familiar to its author.

The introductory chapter finishes with some discussion of the art of necromancy in medieval Munich. Here Professor Kieckhefer makes a distinction between the conjuration of the dead and of infernal spirits. Both are called “necromancy”, though Forbidden Rites focuses primarily upon the evocation of demons. This brief introduction to classical necromancy – which is continued in a later chapter – is vital to understanding any text of spirit conjuration.

In the next chapter, the Professor introduces and outlines the Munich Handbook itself. Herein, he proposes a distinction, though by no means a hard one, between “integrally composed” books, usually dedicated to occult theory, like Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, and “miscellanies,” collections of practical magick without much theory, usually compiled by one person over a period of time. Most of the grimoires we know today are of the miscellany type, including the Key of Solomon the King, Lemegeton, etc. Finally, Kieckhefer uses the contents of the Munich Handbook to conjecture about the author of the text – thereby creating a wonderful illustration of the life and times of a “typical medieval wizard.”

In chapters three through five, the Professor explores different aspects of the Munich Handbook, separating its spells into the three main headings of “Illusionist”, “Psychological”, and “Divinatory.” Illusionist experiments, or “experiences” as the Handbook sometimes refers to them, are intended to “trick” their target – such as producing illusory castles, banquets, armies, etc. Psychological experiments are intended to gain control over or influence the mind of their target – such as gaining favor at court, causing people to fall in or out of love, etc. This chapter also includes much on sympathetic image magick – such as the medieval wax image or “voodoo doll.” Finally, Divinatory experiments are intended to reveal secret information, or to gain knowledge of the past or future. Overall, these three categories cover the largest bulk of spells in all grimoires.

As I previously stated, the author examines each aspect of the Handbook alongside of anecdotal medieval records – throwing some light onto the motivations behind such magick, and placing them into their proper historical context. Unfortunately, space does not permit me to outline the contents of these chapters in depth. Suffice it to say that there is much practical magick found in these chapters, and the anecdotes are thrilling. (Indeed, I find myself wishing there were more collections of medieval stories about wizards at work, such as those found in Elizabeth Butler’s Ritual Magic.)

Having examined the intent and nature of the spells of the Munich Handbook, Kieckhefer then turns his attention in chapter six to the conjurations and exorcisms used throughout the grimoire. This is another incredible piece of historical scholarship, as the Professor explains the broader practice of exorcism in medieval Europe and compares it to grimoiric conjurations. He illustrates that exorcising malignant spirits from the sick is essentially the same art as spirit evocation. The techniques are identical, while only the intent is slightly different in each case. Perhaps best of all, he breaks down classical exorcisms right alongside of spirit conjurations, showing us exactly how they are composed to bring about their effects. I cannot overstress the importance of this chapter to anyone wishing to comprehend books like the Goetia, Heptameron, Magus, etc.

In chapter eight, Professor Kieckhefer explores the magickal seals found throughout the Munich Handbook. Most of these figures are for magickal circles drawn upon the ground, or drawn with blood on parchment to command the spirits. The author examines their forms, the words written within them, the images drawn upon them and their proper uses. Hands down, this is the best explanation of the magick circle I have ever read. For instance, no modern source has suggested such a circle could be held in the hand as a talisman – yet the practice does appear in various grimoires. It is also rare to learn that magickal circles were primarily an aspect of exorcism – where modern traditions tend to use them for every kind of magickal work.

Finally, Kieckhefer outlines an elaborate method of circle-creation found in the Munich Handbook. See the tables on pages 181-183, where the divine names and other considerations for the circle are given for each day of the week and hour of the day or night. Also see page 296ff for the material in its original Latin. He claims that this material draws much from the Picatrix, an Arabic book of astrological magick, but he does not mention that the whole of this section is also found in the Heptameron or The Magus. As it happens, this is my favored method of circle-creation, so I was excited to see it presented here from yet a third source. This also helps to illustrate the large influence the Picatrix has had on the medieval esoteric tradition.

To complete his book, Professor Kieckhefer includes the entire Latin text of the Munich Handbook of Necromancy. Unfortunately, he does not provide an English translation, except for the portions he translated for earlier chapters of his book, which fortunately are considerable. However, he has organized the manuscript very neatly, placing all recitations in italics, breaking the conjurations down into their component parts. That makes this book potentially very useful to someone who knows Latin and might wish to translate the text for the rest of us.

Though it may be redundant, I will say once more how highly, very highly, I recommend Professor Kieckhefer’s book Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century. It makes no difference if you are a practitioner or an academic (or both), you will immensely enjoy this wonderful exploration of medieval magick, and you will find it foundational to your understanding of the magickal grimoires.

Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires

Samuel Scarborough reviews Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires: The Classical Tests of Magick Deciphered [Amazon, Abebooks, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Aaron Leitch in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Leitch Secrets of the Magical Grimoires

The lure of that secret, hidden knowledge buried in a old musty tome just waiting for someone to come along and read the words thus releasing some great power, has lured many new magician with the hopes that they can do just that from picking up those slightly scary and to some degree, awe-inspiring books known as Grimoires. Unfortunately, most of the magical community has done just that, but once we had these books with names like Clavicula Salomonis (The Key of Solomon the King), the Lemegeton, the Goetia, Grimoirum Verum, or even that seemingly holy (unholy) book, The Grand Grimoire, what do we do with them? We read them and quickly learn that we are not sure what we are supposed to do with this great secret wisdom and power that we hold in our hands, so these books go back on the shelf to collect dust for most of us.

Now a new light shines on these often discussed, but long neglected books on our shelves. Aaron Leitch, a scholar and spiritual seeker with over a decade of practical experience has written a book that will be helpful to every magician that has the call to work with those classic books on magic. Where books like Modern Magick by Donald Michael Kraig and Summoning Spirits by Konstantinos give the hopeful magician snippets of information or information that is not that helpful to many, Leitch lays out a detailed method of working with these classics.

When I first got the book I was impressed for a product from Llewellyn. In many cases Llewellyn’s books do not have any sort of reference of where the writer is getting his information, but in Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, there are detailed endnotes at the end of each chapter showing the research that has gone into the material presented. The next thing that caught my eye was the use of relevant images throughout the book to illustrate a point made by Leitch in the text or to help explain passages from those musty old books. Being something of a scholar myself, I just had to check out what the bibliography looked like…I was again surprised to find one of the most comprehensive bibliographies that I have seen in sometime outside of most academic circles. Finally, I got the best surprise of all…I sat down to read the book, and in the text was clear knowledge of those sirens known as the grimoires. Aaron Leitch clearly expressed his points and explained those difficult passages from such esoteric volumes as the Heptameron and the Sworn Book of Honorius in a clear manner that shed the light of understanding suddenly on just what those magicians of 400 – 500 years ago were talking about.

The book is impressive in its size. At four hundred and thirty-two pages with additional xxi pages of Table of Content, Acknowledgements Preface, and Introduction it makes for a large book. Do not let the size fool or scare you away, it is well worth reading. The Preface is full of praise for Leitch and his work on the subject is written by Chic and Tabatha Cicero. The rest of the book covers such topics as medieval magick with a short history of the classic grimoires from the Picatrix to The Grand Grimoire and every other classic grimoire or important text relating to them such as Barrett’s The Magus and Casaubon’s A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Yeers Between Dr. John Dee (A Mathematician of Great Fame in Q. Eliz. And King James their Reignes) and Some Spirits to chapters on what tools are described in the texts of the old grimoires with modern-day methods of creating them as well as many places to find the required materials for them. The meat of the book though covers the operations listed in the classic grimoires and just what is meant for a person to follow the often misunderstood instructions that were written in them so that a person can perform them in the 21st Century.

If the glowing words above do not inspire you to get this book, then I will say it in very plain English. Go out and buy this book, come home and read it, and then look at those dusty volumes on your shelf that long ago promised you the lure of sudden power and knowledge of our Holy Guardian Angel in a new light.