Monday, April 11, 2016

A Historiography of Magical Writings

A Historiography of Writings on Magic
End of the Sorcerers, Boethius, Ravenna 535.
Published posthumously. End of the Sorcerers describes the revelation that Theoderic the Great was a paganizer, sorcerer, and heretic and details his execution at the hands of General Belisarius: His tongue was ripped out and his fingers broken, his eyes put out and hands removed, his head detached from his body and burned to ash, his body buried at a crossroads, and his disembodied ashes placed in a locked silver box bound with cold iron chains and sunk into the Tiber.

The Life of Saint Conall, Unknown, Ireland ~900.
Written by one (or more) unknown scribes, the Life of Saint Conall details one of Ireland’s most famous homegrown saints. While not technically a sorcerer, Conall performed a number of miracles in his lifetime that would, if not attributed to his sanctity, have otherwise appeared to be magical in nature.

The Life was included in a number of collections of hagiographical materials, and proved to be very popular indeed on the Continent. The most dramatic episode sees Saint Conall calling upon the “the very stones, which cried out” to bring King Niall Glundub back to life following his killing by Norsemen after the Battle of Islandbridge. 

A Mystical History of the Normans, Magister Odo of Bayeux, Bayeux 1063.
Bishop Odo of Bayeux was one of the very first sorcerers with a high ecclesiastical position. His Mystical History laid out the acquisition of magic from a captured spirit some time in the distant and mythic past—indeed, Odo suggests that the beast may have been Merovech the Serpent, legendary founder of the Merovingian line of Franks. In this way, Odo tied the magic of his contemporaries with the court magicians of Frankish rulers like Charlemagne.

Codex Magister, Magister Odo of Bayeux, Winchester 1075.
After the Norman Conquest, Odo accompanied his half-brother, William the Conquerer, on his campaigns against the kingdoms of the North. It is while on these campaigns that he determined to record his most potent insights of the magical world, which he did in the years following his return. He spent many years in the library at Witancaster (Winchester) and produced the Codex Magister.

This book was unfortunately declared heretical by the Papal Bull Against the Writings of Magi, 1397, issued by the Antipope Clement VII. This resulted in a great many copies of this manuscript being destroyed. It is unknown if any remain.

The Ladder, Master Hubert, Paris 1123.
Disputations, Paris 1125.
Fairer Folk, Arles 1131.
A Friend’s Farewell, Paris 1158.
Master Hubert was a close friend and confidant of Peter Abelard. They were both masters at the University of Paris. Peter often cautioned Master Hubert to go lightly on the subject of Magic, but Hubert was incorrigible. It was, perhaps, this very attitude which would later inspire Peter’s Yes and No.

Hubert wrote four important books in his lifetime. The first, the Ladder, is greatly concerned with heavenly, magical, and prophetic cosmology. It provides an analysis of Xeno’s Return, Orpheus’ ballads, and a number of other ancient sources. Hubert argues, in the Ladder, that Biblical miracles were a form of magic.

Disputations is a record of Hubert’s arguments with various members of the theology faculty in Paris. His most shocking argument is that God operates by magical means, which came in later centuries to be known as the Hubertine Heresy (“God is not a Magician!” —Spinoza).

Fairer Folk is Hubert’s argument on the spirit-creatures that inhabit the world-between Heaven and Earth. He is the clearest medieval articulator of the notion that faeries have no immortal souls. Indeed, he blames a great number of tragedies on faeries, and warns that they may be completely beyond the power of God, His grace, or His authority.

A Friend’s Farewell was written to honor Peter Abelard. It is a long and sometimes confusing poem. Sorcerers have spilled much ink on its interpretation, convinced that it contains Hubert’s secret store of spellcraft.

The Prince’s Man, Baldassar Castiglione, Venice 1520.
Entitled in English “A guide for the humble sorcerer,” Castiglione’s Prince’s Man is a treatise on the qualities of a servile sorcerer and is thought to have been, in actuality, a description or paean to the current court-sorcerer of Venice, Michaelozzo Chiavaiolo.

Law of the Heavens, by Lucius the Apostate, Antwerp 1580.
Lucius the Apostate wrote Law of the Heavens in response to a German manual on hunting sorcerers and magicians entitled Licht der Gerechten, the Light of the Righteous. It is believed that Lucius himself was a sorcerer operating somewhere in the Holy Roman Empire at the time.

Law of the Heavens is a full-throated defense of magic as both religiously acceptable and, in fact, desirable by God. It is often cited as one of the chief works of the Apologists. However, it should be noted that Lucius received his epithet after the publication of a later work, Refutations, in which he repudiated the existence of God, the Afterlife, and the Immortal Soul, doing much damage to the Apologist cause.

An Act to Codify the Magical Law, 3 Elizabeth, c. 12, 1588.
The Codification Act was passed by Parliament during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It established the use of the Star Chamber as the highest court of Magical appeal in the Kingdom, as well as the parallel legal structure of Advocates Magisterial and the Judiciary Magisterial. Though the monarchs of England had kept magical executioners since the time of the Holy English Monarchy (Empress Mathilde’s reign), it was only with the Codification Act that the position was subordinated to the Lord Mayor of London and made permanent.

The Inn of the Sorcerers’ Commons was established shortly after the Codification Act to service the Judiciary Magisterial.

The False Messenger, Gianfranco de Sulmona, The Vatican 1610.
Little is known about Gianfranco other than his publication of this pamphlet. It was written and printed very shortly after the more famous Starry Messenger of Galileo. However, its content could not be more different. The False Messenger lists and proceeds to debunk every historical, mythological, and rumored raising of the dead performed by a magician who was not an Old or New Testament Prophet.

“Demon-spirits may ape the Resurrection, but in truth they merely create a false creature, a lying messenger, to take the place of the vanished love one. None but God himself may pluck a soul from Eternity.” This passage has been quoted more than any other publication on magic.

The Tree of Knowledge (being a Compleat and True History of the Majickal Artes of the European People Stretching back since Tyme Immemoreal), by Simon LaGrange Bridewell, Oxford University 1638.
Simon Bridewell was a clergyman and fellow at All Soul’s College who was intensely interested in magical study. He believed that magic could be traced to ethnic groups, and that magical “traditions” had discrete historical sources in various world societies and religions. Curiously, he did not opine on the Cahoka or other indigenous New World cultures and their magical traditions.

Another interesting and widely influential idea developed in The Tree of Knowledge was the notion that spirit-creatures (which Bridewell disparagingly calls daemons, djinn, and faeries interchangeably) lack the use of the faculty of Reason. This is much related to the medieval belief that faerie-creatures have no Immortal Soul.


  1. Nice. Are these fictional works invented by you in the style of Lovecraft's Necronomicon and other invented reference works?

    1. I would put it one step beyond Lovecraft's Necromanicon--these are works from a wholly parallel and alternate timeline where sorcery exists.

    2. The time period for those texts is perfect for my Honor+Intrigue campaign which is currently set in 1624 France. Thanks I will definitely find a use for these.

      I linked to your post in my blog.

    3. Excellent! I appreciate the link. There will be an upcoming short story set in this world, in Jamestown, taking place some time around 1630, posted this Friday.

    4. Witch Hunter: the Invisible World as well. Very nice.