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Friday, June 5, 2020

Considering an Act of Magic

Yesterday we presented a selection from Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography, La Vita, in which he describes two experiments of conjuration. Published magical journals and accounts from the Middle Ages and he Renaissance our, to our detriment, not incredibly common. So, while this account is not an account by a magician it is one with which we should be familiar. Such accounts can help us get a broader picture of how magic was actually practiced.
          There is of course in modern magic some debate regarding how to interpret the grimoires. The idea that they are woefully incomplete such as to be unworkable is more or less, fortunately, dismissed. The idea that they are full of blinds and mis-directions is also, again fortunately, more or less dismissed. Now the question is more one of discreet and perfect textual adherence, or consideration of magic within a context that allows some blending and idiosyncrasy.
          Jason Miller has often pointed out that if magicians did precisely what the grimoires said all the time we would have many more examples of physical magical artifacts surviving, and for the most part we don’t. I have pointed out many times that the idea that texts were viewed as distinct and even holy instructions written by individual groups of spirits is shown faulty, not simply by the spirits often being the same book to book, but by the fact that we can trace literary lineages. Books clearly copy and draw from one another. Working books clearly copy pieces from other books and blend them together and make adjustments. Further what we generally see are translations which may combine multiple differing manuscript sources each source having differences, and so our readings are often not the readings of a singular book by a singular hand. Work books, and the books of cunningfolk show blending and adaptation, and accounts of the work of cunningfolk do as well.
          One might counter that the cunningfolk are not quite the same as the educated magicians who used the grimoires. This distinction is a faulty one when we consider the actual history. Even forgetting that that is the case, we have Cellini’s account of a priest, who has studied necromancy, performing magic. So, what does that account tell us?
          Firstly, Cellini’s priest performs the conjuration in two different ways. He works with a virgin boy scryer in one instance after having worked without the boy in the first. The conjurations he uses the second time are different than the first. His circle construction is more complicated the second time. Aside from that the description of the magician’s work is not particularly varied. It does not seem so much that he is using a different system each time but rather that he is ratchetting up his effort the second time by using what he believes to be more powerful conjurations and circle constructions. Cellini says that the first conjuration did not obtain his desire and upon that the magician offered a second attempt and assured that second attempt would secure success. This, to me, indicates that he was leveling up his game in the second attempt.
          There is no description of special clothing or of special tools, save that the necromancer has a robe or robes. One man holds a pentacle in the first attempt, and the other two deal with fires and perfumes. Curiously, he describes each being introduced to the circle as if there is some ritual of bringing someone in. While the grimoires, when describing a master and acolytes, instruct that the acolytes hold a sword and a candle, and stand in a particular spot, none of that is done here. The necromancer likely had a sword or rod because he drew circles on the ground, but no other such indication is given of him using any tools during the conjuration. They also do not describe any altar or table.
          It seems that Cellini and the necromancer were both able to perceive the devils they conjured, it also seems that they did not necessarily perceive the same things, the necromancer having to relay the answer to Cellini regarding his request. The boy clearly sees different things from what they see. Cellini’s account does not seem concerned about this. The lack of concern either suggests that it was a given, or that it simply did not concern Cellini and regardless of the difference he was satisfied with the experience.
          The primary materials seem to be the perfumes of which there seem to be a significant amount. The perfumes seem to be the main tool by which the spirits are called, along with the conjurations. The foul-smelling drugs, and flatulence, seem to be the most effective items in banishing them, more so than the magician’s dismissals. This seems to fit some of the ideas Dr. Stephen Skinner has put forth regarding spirits and smells.  
          In both instances Cellini’s necromancer either did not call forth a particular single spirit. In the first it is unclear, but in the second he called on several spirits by name. In both cases many spirits arrive. The magician seems unable to determine the number of spirits conjured or to command the legion of spirits. It seems as if the conjuration generally calls forth spirits. There is no effort to bind the spirits to a particular space, behavior, or appearance. This would suggest that the method is not strictly Solomonic in nature. In fact, most elements of a Solomonic conjuration seem to be missing from the description, whether or not they were missing from what was done.
          Regarding the conjurations they were a combination of Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Cellini does not mention the use of Italian. It may be that conjurations were not performed in the vernacular or that it was not worth being mentioned that the vernacular was used. It is likely that at this point, in a Catholic country, a priest would work magic in Latin given that magic was a parallel to liturgy.
          One of the things which has always been of interest to me is that the magician has several books with him. These books are in use in the ceremony because he must collect and bundle them at the end, therefore they have been taken out from their bundling. The books are not his consecrated ritual book upon which spirits have sworn. We know this because he asks for Cellini to help him in creating such a book. To me this has always suggested that the magician reads from a book when making his conjuration…although this would be more reasonable with a single consecrated book having all the conjurations he might use rather than several. It also counters the oft asserted idea that magicians were lucky to have a single magical text and would study and probe that singular text because they were unlikely to ever see another. All textual evidence shows thoroughly that this was untrue, yet it is still repeated as a justification for some modern approaches and interpretations. This account makes it very clear that even this random necromancer priest had multiple books at his disposal simultaneously. This also indicates that it was unlikely that a single book of magic was viewed as a discreet and unalterable thing, or he would not have needed multiple books with him at the time of his efforts.
          By the Renaissance the Colosseum was a ruin and an unkept space. It had been used as a quarry and thus the structure was in decay with parts of the building having been removed. Some locals used it for keeping stalls of their animals. So, it was a relatively abandoned space in the city. We sometimes note that the grimoires are not particularly express about the spaces in which to conjure, but what information we have often suggests far off and remote spaces. Abandoned spaces. The Colosseum would be such despite being within a city.
          Cellini’s account is an account of a priest who was learned in nigromancy, along with a partner with experience in nigromancy, during the Renaissance rather than a later account of a cunning person. It is an account of someone who is an example of a magician operating within the grimoire tradition during its own period of time. We don’t know how complete or how incomplete the account is, but Cellini does recount two instances similarly. Based on Cellini’s account one operating in this manner would retreat to a remote or abandoned space.  The principle exorcist needs a robe but additional participants do not need special clothes or preparations. A circle is to be drawn, and ritual preparations are made while drawing it – one would assume the psalms. Once everyone enters the circle fires are lit – I would assume braziers; and rich and fine perfumes are placed thereon. A pentacle is held up, if there is a scryer the pentacle is held above the scryer. The conjurer recites conjurations and prayers calling upon God, and upon the spirits by name. When the spirits arrive, they may be asked for a request. Once finished the spirits may be dismissed using foul odors and instructions to depart, or the Church bells striking morning prayers might dismiss them.
Cellini’s account presents a very stripped-down version of conjuration.  Before we dismiss this though, consider John Dee’s approach. It was largely a prayer of praise and confession and then prayers for the appearance of angels. There was not much more to it than that. Trithemius’s Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals (DSIC) looks very similar to the means by which Dee worked. DSIC might be a spurious text, but still seems to indicate well enough a basic approach to crystallomancy. This approach follows the essential idea of the grimoires but eschews the complexity of the tools and rituals. With that in mind, Cellini’s account, while not detailed, probably covers the main beats of what happened and still illustrates for us that conjuration in that context need not be as complicated as sometimes described.

So, in our previous post I noted that in today’s post I would provide some information on my new book, Luminarium: A Guide to Cunning Conjuration. In short, the book is a quick read, my test readers were all done it within a couple of days. The goal of the book is to give magicians a system they can use and begin doing conjurations with very little prep time. Reading the book, gathering and preparing the materials, and preparing yourself could all be done within a few days to a week – even if you’ve never done magic. Its goal is to help get new magicians off the sidelines, but also to provide a new and empowered way, drawing on old and traditional techniques, to give those already experimenting with conjuration a simplified and powerful method. The method essentially uses magic to augment the preparations and the conjuration itself to make things simpler and more accessible for the magician.  
Here is some initial feedback the book has gotten:

“I think it absolutely is fantastic this is so much needed and I think this is going to be really ground breaking and game changing.” – Anneliese Anthoinette

“I had recently petitioned Hekate to assist me with opening the ways to contact my HGA. My first go-around attempt a few years ago did not go well and I did not make it to the rite. The prayers and directions in your text were exactly what I was looking for to start a different approach!” – Jonathan Masters
“All I gotta say is.... WOAH. That was powerful. And I am buzzing. Also, some real interesting physical manifestation stuff happened” – Alexander Deckman

“I’m really excited for people to read this.” – Aequus Nox

The Kindle Edition of Luminarium is available for pre-order on Amazon now, it will go live June 7th. The paperback edition should be available on Amazon either June 6th or 7th. A paperback and a hardback edition will be available through Barnes and Noble in a few weeks, as will paperback and hardback editions of Living Spirits.

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