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2010: Odyssey Two

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2010: Odyssey Two [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 2 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 2010 Odyssey Two

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Odyssey sequence” straddles strangely the media of cinema features and text novels. 2001: A Space Odyssey was plotted by the author in collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and then written in dialogue with the production of the movie. The mutually-informing parallel products were not identical; a few significant differences separated their plots. Clarke’s book 2010: Odyssey Two is a sequel to the 2001 movie. In every case where narrative continuity forces him to choose, he follows the film. No doubt he was motivated by the hope (fulfilled in 1984) that 2010 would also be a movie, and he wanted to make the book digestible into a screenplay without extra retconning.

In fairness, it’s likely that many more people saw the 2001 movie than read the novel. So the choice made sense for their sake as potential 2010 readers also. Still, it creates some strangeness for a 21st-century reader now approaching the books as a series.

After reading 2001 and detecting an esoteric pattern in its structure, I wondered if there would be similar references and effects in the next book. I believe there are. The most conspicuous of these is the title shared by the final section and its last chapter: “Lucifer Rising.” While it seems unlikely that Clarke took this title from the 1972 avant-garde film by Kenneth Anger, they may have had some occult inspiration in common. Another echo of magick was in the title of the second section “Tsien” (the name of the Chinese spaceship in the story) after the onetime GALCIT rocketry colleague of Jack Parsons in Pasadena.

The central character of 2010 is Heywood Floyd, the protagonist of the early lunar “TMA-1” section of 2001. Understood via a Rosicrucian-Thelemite template, Floyd is an astronaut-initiate who becomes an adept by means of his 2010 adventure to Jupiter, in a mission to recover the lost Discovery and to advance human knowledge regarding the great black monolith at the Lagrange-1 point in the Jupiter-Io system. The Star Child who had been Dave Bowman serves as a magus of the ineffable gods, giving a Word to humanity, who struggle to comprehend it.

Floyd’s 2010 expedition is a joint USSR-USA undertaking, which had become historically impossible before the end of the 20th century. But Clarke could duck any plot adjustments for those political eventualities in the next book 2061: Odyssey Three, which he managed to write a few years prior to the end of the Soviet Union. Of greater concern to Clarke was accounting for scientific developments, especially the 1979 disclosures from the probe Voyager.

Although the pacing and voice of 2010 are very similar to those of 2001, I thought the effect of the second book was much different than the first. Bowman’s ascension had been awfully lonely. The crew of the Leontov, by contrast, produce two marriages, and they witness the appearance of a new “companion” on an astronomical scale, and even the solitary Star Child redeems an old friend in 2010.

Although I know that the set-up in the first two books differs enough from the reality of our 21st century that 2061 will tell an impossible tale, I am looking forward to the first book of the sequence that we haven’t already caught up with on the calendar.

The Dreaming City

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dreaming City [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Julien Blondel, Jean-Luc Cano, and Julien Telo, foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet, vol 4 of the Elric series.

Blondel Cano Telo The Dreaming City Elric

This newly-released (in English) fourth volume completes the “first cycle” of Julien Blondel’s bandes dessinées adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories. Blondel takes a lot of liberties with the original texts–something on the level of a typical cinematic adaptation of a novel–but his choices are generally very good and have reportedly met with Moorcock’s own approval. One of the biggest changes was introduced at the end of the third volume and is central to this one. . . . . . . . [hover over to reveal spoilers] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I like the gloomy, shadow-heavy art by Telo in this book, but some of the compositions are hard to “read” in narrative terms, especially during the climactic confrontation among Elric, Cymoril, and Yrkoon. In some panels for example, I didn’t know which of the rune-swords is being shown: is that Stormbringer or Mournblade? These stumbles “work” impressionistically, reflecting Elric’s own confusion, but they are still a little frustrating for the reader.

The foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet (co-founder of Métal hurlant, who asks that you read his essay after The Dreaming City to which it is prefaced) is the least of these in the series, but like the others it contains some piquant autobiographical reflections and musings on international culture and the role of fantasy. It does include one amusing double-translation through French: the Moorcock novel “Here’s the Man” (i.e. Behold the Man, which is the biblical ecce homo).

The claim to have finished a cycle of the larger saga is a fair one here. Most of the story threads have been tied off, if not ruthlessly cut and burned, by this point. The issuance of these volumes has been at a pretty leisurely pace, and I hope that they continue without an even longer intermission than the ones before.

The Gone-Away World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gone-Away World [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nick Harkaway.

Harkaway The Gone-Away World

Although I came to this novel on the basis of my appreciation of a later work by the same author, it made an eerily good match for the most recent feature film I enjoyed. If you liked the martial arts action, twisted humor, melodramatic pathos, and reality-warping mindfuckery of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, you might find that Nick Harkaway’s doorstop 2008 first novel actually delivers a kindred experience.

The Gone-Away World contains about half a dozen major anagnorises or revelatory plot pivots, each with perfectly adequate narrative preparation and often outright foreshadowing. After getting caught with my pants down by a couple of these, I got really vigilant, paying special attention to what the story hadn’t told me at that point, and my effort was rewarded with being able to anticipate the next big surprise by maybe two or three pages. Then as I kept on reading, feeling pleased with myself, I got surprised again! (Well, I sort of saw that coming.) And again! (OMG, how could I fail to have seen that coming!) It was like losing a sparring bout.

The semi-fantastic post-apocalyptic setting is definitely sui generis (although comparisons others have made to Vonnegut have some merit), and it took me a few of the book’s longish chapters to get comfortable with the narrative framing. But even before that point I found the prose fast-moving and congenial.

There’s possibly an allegory here, certainly a parable. I had to wonder if Harkaway named “FOX”–“the gunk … inFOrmationally eXtra-saturated” (259) that stabilizes reality after the Go Away War has totally disrupted it– as a conscious poke at US propaganda media. The book takes aim at even bigger troubles, though, if you want to read it that way. The repeated tacit references to Andromeda in the final arc were poignant.

On the whole, I liked this novel a lot and found it to be a lively ride. It fell a little short of the tremendously high esteem I have for Harkaway’s Gnomon, but that’s hardly grounds to dismiss it. It is perhaps, as I’ve seen some suggest, more accessible than the later book, while still delivering a considerable taste of what the writer has to offer.

Against the Machine

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob [Amazon, Bookshop (Random House new edition), Publisher (Random House new edition), Local Library] by Lee Siegel.

Siegel Against the Machine

I made two errors in selecting this book to read. First, I confused the author with the other Lee Siegel, Indologist and novelist, who I thought could have some interesting things to say on this topic, as any contemporary intellectual might. This Lee Siegel is however a journalist, reviewer, and culture critic with a history of work at Slate and prominent US print periodicals. Second, I failed to notice that the book was published in 2008, making it as much a matter of historical interest as contemporary analysis, with respect to circumstances on the internet. It was slightly prior to the first Avatar movie–which it instances in discussing the increasingly immersive qualities of media, after a rather puzzling and factually dubious digression about the effects of “method acting” on media culture (114).

Still, without much in the way of overt prognostication, the book was in some respects prescient. The “Electronic Mob” of the subtitle mostly predated the (today still steeply increasing) usage of “Twitter mob,” as that platform was then in its infancy and didn’t even rate a mention. Instead, the cutting-edge internet landscape in this book consists of now-matured (if not in some cases decrepit) platforms such as MySpace, YouTube (not yet acquired by Google), Second Life (now relevant as a de facto Metaverse beta trial?), eBay, and Match.com.

Seigel positions himself squarely against “Internet boosterism” that trivializes the social and cultural hazards of the ‘net while advancing claims for it to enhance freedom, democracy, “self expression,” and choice. He remarks convenience as the sole genuine benefit of ‘net use. He has a cast of “booster” futurologists and pundits whom he excoriates, and these include Alvin Toffler, Stuart Brand, David Brooks, and Malcolm Gladwell, all of whom are fair marks I think. But he seems to err in targeting Douglas Rushkoff–a conspicuous critic of ‘net “social media”–confusing some of Rushkoff’s diagnoses of internet culture with blithe endorsements. (On p. 84 Siegel doesn’t allow for the possibility that Rushkoff’s “eerie mechanistic idiom” and “outlandishness” might have been calculated to produce the negative reaction towards ‘net indoctrination that Siegel experienced reading it!) Like the old-line cyberpunk Rushkoff, Siegel objects to “the commodifying of ideas and emotions behind hyperbole about liberating avenues of fantasy and play” in characterizations of the internet (36).

He claims that the 20th-century broadcast media which addressed the masses were not yet the “mass culture for the first time” manifested in an internet which surrenders itself to the banalities of sensationalism, hyperbole, and fraud (74-9). He wants to draw a bright line where ‘net-driven culture leaves behind merited fame in favor of “viral” popularity, and he objects to the ubiquitous metaphor: “It depresses me to equate illness with success even in a quotation” (105). Ruminating on the internet devaluation of expertise in culture, Siegel uses medicine as his counterpoint: “That’s why you never hear about the Internet causing a ‘revolution’ in law or medicine … Professions and trades require training. You could not have the equivalent of Jay Rosen creating ‘citizen heart surgeons'” (139). He thought medicine was immune to the assault on expertise! And now a non-metaphoric pandemic virus has killed millions, many of whom refused the preventive measures supplied by establishment medicine, in favor of “doing their own research” on the internet.

Ever so briefly, Siegel brushes up against the hazard of epistemic closure, where “users customize their news sources so they only read news that suits their own interests and tastes” (109), which a reader might be tempted to dismiss as a mere extension of the general human failing of confirmation bias. He misses how this failing can become catastrophic when covertly reified through Google page rank, Facebook feed algorithms, and other subtle devices of surveillance capitalism. Indeed, the surveillance dimension escapes him altogether, and he doesn’t acknowledge the rational, defensive role of internet anonymity in the face of unregulated corporate control.

Against the Machine places a premium on its exploration of the subjective isolation of the ‘net user, with introspective passages about what it is like for Siegel to sit down at his computer and what it is that he is doing and trying to do when he interacts with the ‘net there. As a professional writer, it seems he was unable to perceive the extent–even in 2008–that the main interface for ‘net users had shifted from laptop to smartphone. The nowhere of the internet is now more everywhere than before. When he contrasts the transactional, ulterior nature of internet experience with the exploratory nature of a walk in the park or browsing in a bookstore (174-5), he seems not to have imagined that the internet could so colonize the quotidian that the walker in the park would be listening to a podcast, or the bookstore shopper checking her phone for a recommendation she had read online. (Nor does he seem to have experienced the aleatory pleasure–no matter how contrived–of “surfing” the ‘net!)

This book-length essay interestingly complements the recent and widely-hailed article in The Atlantic by Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Haidt’s piece is a retrospective on the damage done by social media, justifying and amplifying many of Siegel’s indictments, such as those regarding “virality,” the commodification of private life, the erosion of social institutions, and the magnification of hate and outrage. Haidt, like Rushkoff but unlike Siegel, also pays particular attention to consequences for the children of the 21st century, for whom the ‘net has been an inescapable ingredient of social and emotional development. Another point emphasized by Haidt (which Siegel touches far more incidentally) is the fact that ‘net discourse overrepresents the whitest, most affluent, and most ideologically rigid (whether “conservative” or “progressive”) participants.

No one encountering even just the title of Siegel’s book should expect anything other than a jeremiad. His defense of inherited media institutions (despite their complicity in the internet developments he decries) often makes him seem like a reactionary, and some of his arguments are a bit muddled. But most of his concerns have been borne out by the dismal developments of the last decade and a half, and the book is written thoughtfully enough that almost any given paragraph could be meat for earnest intellectual argument. Despite it being not at all the book I had thought I was reserving at my local public library, I thought it was still worth my time to read.

The Algebraist

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Algebraist [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by Iain M Banks.

Banks The Algebraist

The Algebraist is a full-bore space opera with a galactic setting, plenty of exotic alien intelligences, interstellar warfare, political intrigue, espionage, melodrama, and a surprisingly generous helping of slapstick. It is divided into six chapters of about eighty pages each, but these are not component novellas. It’s very much a single novel with a unified arc from start to finish.

The far future described here takes place long after the “Arteria Collapse” that broke up the wormhole-networked galactic community. The focus is on the particularly remote Urlubis system. This peripheral locale is still subject to the Mercatoria, which imposes its multiracial but highly authoritarian hierarchies across much of the galaxy, along with a crusade against autonomous AI.

Humans are both old and relatively new to galactic polity, since a-humans (“advanced” or abducted) had spread quite widely after being collected earlier by other starfaring races. R-humans (“remainder”) from Earth did eventually join these “prepped” populations. The story’s protagonist is a human “seer,” part of a research institution dedicated to learning from a somewhat standoffish race of gas-giant planet “Dwellers” who are among the oldest and most widespread of interstellar sentients.

This freestanding novel was my first read in the works of Iain Banks, whose science fiction is most identified with his series The Culture. I liked it a great deal, and I will certainly wade into The Culture on the strength of this book.

Decoding the Enochian Secrets

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Decoding the Enochian Secrets: God’s Most Holy Book to Mankind as Received by Dr. John Dee from Angelic Messengers [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by John DeSalvo.

DeSalvo Decoding Enochian Secrets

The highlight of this relatively recent (2011) volume on angelic magic is the first complete publication of the last remaining element of John Dee’s Enochian corpus as delivered to him by spirits through the mediumship of Edward Kelley, i.e. Liber Logaeth, a.k.a. the “Book of Enoch.” Author John DeSalvo provides that text in the form of scanned facsimiles from the British Library. This Appendix B is more than half of the book.

Decoding the Enochian Secrets starts with a couple of chapters regarding the biblical person of Enoch and the ancient (“apocryphal”) Book of Enoch, with some inquiry into their connections with the Dee and Kelley materials. While I was intrigued by the idea that DeSalvo might come up with something new on this front, as he certainly gives it more sustained attention than most authors on the topic, he’s not able to muster anything beyond broad thematic similarities between ancient and early modern “Enochian” lore. He also supplies a high-level summary of the Dee and Kelley evocations, repeatedly quoting passages from the diaries that describe Kelley being struck and lit by radiant beams from the stone.

DeSalvo’s commendable attention to primary materials does result in an editorial clarification of the forty-nine tables of Liber Logaeth, including the “missing” forty-ninth. He emphasizes that Dee’s diaries identify the express purpose of the Calls to be assisting with the understanding of how to operate these tables, also that the angels enjoined Dee not to do that work until receiving further commands–which were never delivered.

Nevertheless, the recommendations here for contemporary practice are surprisingly conventional, and very much in the mode of Crowley and Regardie (the only 20th-century magicians DeSalvo mentions). His method for “meditation” on the aethyrs prescribes the lesser pentagram ritual for opening and closing, and includes goetic-style prayer and “license to depart” both marked as “optional.”

I agree with DeSalvo’s view that original versions of these tables were probably all inscribed by Dee while the entranced Kelley was dictating them. (All but one of the surviving tables are in Kelley’s hand, evidently copied from Dee’s.) He makes the credible and intriguing suggestion that these originals might survive, perhaps even in the British Library, subject to misattribution or faulty cataloging.

DeSalvo speculates that Liber Logaeth was received by Dee, but embargoed by the angels because it is intended to serve as a device of the “end times.” He suggests that his work in issuing this book is part of that instrumentality, even connecting it with “2012 being the end date of the Mayan calendar” (73). On this front, he willfully ignores the chiliastic dimension of Crowley’s The Vision & the Voice, and seems to mistake the immanentization of the eschaton for its “imminentization.”

This book tries to straddle the gap between a popular introduction to Enochian magic and a more specialized defense of DeSalvo’s own theories and excavation of sources. I would only recommend it for the latter, since there are other and better options for the former.

Flight from Nevèrÿon

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Flight from Nevèrÿon [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Samuel R Delany, part of the Return to Nevèrÿon series.

Delany Flight from Neveryon

The third volume of Delany’s Nevèrÿon stories was supposed to be his last, although there is a fourth book in the trilogy. Flight from Nevèrÿon has three numbered sections, the third of which consists of two appendices and makes up half the book.

I read and enjoyed the putative body text of “The Tale of Fog and Granite” and “The Mummer’s Tale,” both of which built on the the characters and settings of Delany’s previous stories, within the established fictional context of the antediluvian realm of Nevèrÿon, while carrying forward a project of postmodern theorizing embedded in the narratives.

The acme of the book, though, and perhaps of the whole series, was longest piece, “Appendix A: The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, or, Some Informal Remarks toward the Modular Calculus, Part Five.” This part features a complete Nevèrÿon story centered around an AIDS-like plague and the social responses it provokes. Interleaved with that story are several other registers of writing, including lightly fictionalized anecdotes from Delany’s own life, a running account of his gay junky acquaintance “Joey,” tail-devouring criticism of the book in hand by the imaginary academic S. L. Kermit, and a closing note about the public health facts of AIDS as they were understood at the time of writing in mid-1984.

In addition to the intended reflections of 1980s New York in Nevèrÿon, Appendix A brings up occasional irruptions of Nevèrÿon in 1980s New York. But my favorite passage of “Plagues and Carnivals” was section 9.6, detailing relations between the Mummer and the Master of the academy. In these seven pages (261-7) Delany tacitly supplies an interpretive frame for the canon of Classical Greek philosophy from Heraclitus through Plato. It’s an impressive feat and delightful for the informed reader.

“Clearly the Nevèrÿon series is a model of late twentieth-century (mostly urban) America. The question is, of course: What kind of model is it?” (377) The far shorter Appendix B collapses into the more “factual” and explicatory matter of the author’s reflections on the three volumes, answers to readers about the nature of the “modular calculus,” citation of sources and inspirations, theory of semiotics/semiology grounding Delany’s writing, and a list of Delany’s corrections to the three books then in print–when he thought that the work was “complete.”

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.