Anon, Conjuration and an Excellent Discourse of the Nature and Substance of Devils and Spirits S.E.E. 2006 Numbered limited edition of 120 copies. 98pp Some illustrations.
1) The Nature of the Text
In 1584 Reginald Scot published the Discoverie of Witches. Scot was daringly sceptical as to the reality of witchcraft and opposed the persecution of witches, referring to witch hunters as “witchmongers”. This was a courageous position to take in 1584 and copies of his book were burnt when James ascended the English throne at the beginning of the 17th Century, the king himself having authored an anti-witchcraft book in response to Discoverie of Witches. Yet despite the witchcraft trials, as the century progressed Scot’s book was increasingly sought out not for his sceptical viewpoint but as a source for demonic and angelic lore by those who desired to practice magic. “Conjuration and an Excellent Discourse of the Nature and Substance of Devils and Spirits” appeared as appendices to the third edition of Scot’s Discoverie issued in 1665. This can be seen in the context of a number of significant publications with the first issues of English translations of Paracelsus, Agrippa, numerous alchemical works and the popularisation of astrology and astrological herbalism.
a) Book I
Provides a great deal of general information as to the magical regalia and practices of the conjurors of spirits. Some aspects seem quite modern, for instance a magic circle need only be imagined to be effective. Some of the regalia, such as snakeskin belts and so forth, is rather reminiscent of shamanism. Four rituals are described in detail:-
i) An act of necromancy by which the magician may gain knowledge from the spirit of a suicide, the magician being encouraged to do what he can to bring rest to the spirit and is warned that the practice is highly dangerous.
ii) The conjuration of three infernal spirits with considerable detail as to what the magician actually experiences whilst the ritual is performed.
iii) The ritual invocation by the magician of his own Genius or Good Angel into a skrying crystal. A fascinating account of the visions that will precede the appearance of the angel is followed by the revelation that the Angel will take on the appearance of the magician himself. This has harmonics with the pre-Crowley 1st degree O.T.O. initiation where oaths are taken to ones inner guardian who is represented by the candidates reflection in the mirror. This ritual is very different from the usual cajoling and commanding of spirits as the magician respectfully invites the spirit to attend.
iv) Finally a ritual is given for the obtaining of a familiar. The process described here involves the conjuring of spirits that have changing relationships between themselves and changing affinities with different areas of northern Europe. Indeed the text demonstrates a sophisticated awareness and magical view of geography. A volcano in Iceland is named as a place where airy and fiery demons habitually frequent where they wage battles. An illustration of the volcano with two witches is given as a sigil to invoke spirits.
Remarkably one of the names of power used to control the spirits that grant the familiar is Coronzon, a name so important in the Enochian system of John Dee and Edward Kelly (the latter being mentioned in Book II). However, this of the text is attributed to a named Scandinavian magician. The appearance of this Enochian name in this context is a matter for some intriguing speculation! Once evoked the spirits will provide the familiar which, significantly, is then named by the magician whom it serves.
Presents a treatise upon the nature of spirits. The writer is clearly learned, giving many references to classical writers though sometimes he disagrees with their statements. However he also describes more contemporary faery lore and both folk and intellectual European traditions concerning spirits with a sophisticated differentiation of their various orders with an implied cosmology concerning the subtle nature of Man and the world. There is a discussion of the nature of Good and Evil Genii that men attract to them and the benefits that can be obtained from establishing a relationship with ones benevolent angel. Comparison can be made with the state Crowley referred to as Knowledge and Conversation with ones Holy Guardian Angel though there are important differences and a good deal of unfamiliar lore concerning guardian angels with discussion as to the nature of evil Angels. The source of some of this material is a named Indian, an example as to the remarkably cosmopolitan nature of the text with statements as to the magical practices and events in Europe, the New World and China. A truly magical vision of the world is evinced; various spirits inhabit the skies, mines, forests, rivers and guard over cities and so forth. They interact with man bringing both good and evil but also pursue their own business that does not concern us. Whilst Book I is a straightforward description of the practices of magicians and witches in Book II the treatise states various points of view as to the practice of magic. The writer is clearly a believer. At some points he condemns the actions of some magicians as diabolic, however, the condemnations may fall wide of the mark. For instance the criticism of magicians in Book II for seeking familiars for the purpose of copulation is quite alien to the extensive ritual for obtaining a familiar and the history of a particular one in Book I. Perhaps this ambiguity results from discretion as a practitioner of the rituals described risked being hung as a witch. Perhaps the writer was genuinely equivocal about that which he describes. At other points, for instance when discussing making contact with ones good Angel the writer appears cautiously approving. Often the writer appears non-judgemental and at another point he gives detailed disagreements with Scot which would only make sense to a practitioner.
The Relationship of the Work to Witchcraft
An interesting question arises. How does this text relate to the Witchcraft? Two factors obscure the issue. Firstly modern witches often distinguish themselves from ceremonial magicians, astrologers and so forth. This compartmentalisation may be a modernism. In earlier times astrologers provided ceremonially charged astrological talismans. In his Discoverie of Witches Scot talks about astrology, alchemy, demonology, ceremonial magic, planetary hours etc. and so forth, for him these were all aspects of witchcraft. Secondly in times past people tended not to identify themselves as witches as some do now. To some degree “Witchcraft” in the past meant an act of malevolent magic done by your enemy. In fact a great deal of what we would now call witchcraft (acts of psychic protection for example, protective charms etc.) was then magical ritual intended to protect against “witchcraft”. The text is not immune from this and there are negative references to witchcraft. These acts of protection were an important aspect of the activities of Cunning men and women. It has been suggested that as Protestant churchmen abandoned as superstitious traditional priestly acts as blessing crops and livestock Cunning Folk stepped to fulfil the role sometimes using occult rather than Catholic glamours. Certainly the text presented here had influence upon Cunning men. The component dealing with invocation of ones Good Angel appears in the manuscripts of John and Henry Harries, father and son Cunning men who operated in Wales in the latter part of the 18th and early part of the 19th Century. Another Welsh Cunning Man called William Harris was taken to court in 1867 where the content of a charm he supplied was read out, it derived from this text. In Cornwall the body of a woman was discovered with a charm deriving from Conjuration and most Excellent Discourse contained in a silk bag. She was probably a practitioner as the relevant daimon was a good angel who appeared “..to those devoted to the knowledge of magick; teaching them how to exercise Infernal Witchcraft without danger.” The work as a whole was very influential upon Ebenezer Sibly, the late 18th Century astrologer whose New and Complete Illustration of Occult Sciences encompassed astrology and ceremonial magic. It is to be noted that there is an oral tradition amongst some Cultus Sabbatai witches that Sibly was influential upon their Craft. If we consider witchcraft to be folk magic tradition then “Conjuration and an Excellent Discourse of the Nature and Substance of Devils and Spirits” is an important but previously overlooked influence upon the authentic tradition of witchcraft. As to how it would have been regarded in its day, an authoritative text in 17th Century England describing procedure for the persecution of witches was William Perkins, Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft published in 1608. In regards to evidence of witchcraft Perkins states that true evidence proving witchcraft requires either a confession or the testimony of two witnesses that the accused either “…hath made a league with the devil. Or hath done some known practices of witchcraft. (Such as hath invocated and called upon the devil; hath entertained a familiar spirit, and had conference with it in form or likeness of a mouse, cat or some other visible creature. Or have used glasses” [ie crystals for skying]. Practitioners of the rituals described in the work therefore would most certainly have been considered to be practising witchcraft. Previously, it has been very difficult to obtain. Virtually all reprints of Scot’s Discoverie of Witches republish the first edition which lacks this text rather than the third. “Conjuration and an Excellent Discourse of the Nature and Substance of Devils and Spirits” is a previously overlooked treasure which, it is hoped, will now receive the attention it deserves
2) The Physical Incarnation of the Book
Some illustrations of sigils plus one of witches practicing a conjuration. It is printed with red embellishments on mould made 160 gramme Fabriano Ingres paper which has an appealing texture, subtle shade and lush feel. This paper is usually only used for endpapers an is far superior to papers generally used for books. A typeface has been used that mirrors the imperfections of 17th Century printing and the 17th Century design of type. For the sake of legibility it has some nods to modernity, important, as this text should be read. The typesetting of the book has followed 17th Century conventions. In fact these are a great aid to legibility. Chapter headings summarise contents and most paragraphs have shoulder comments in the margin that briefly state its contents. This allows one to very effectively scan the text. At the bottom of each page appears the first word of the next page, to assist the binder. The archaic and variant spellings have been retained. The conventions of magical manuscripts have been followed, with magical names and certain other portions of text being rubricated. The typesetting and printing is by Mandrake Press Ltd. of Thame in Oxfordshire, England.
It is bound in cloth and leather. The leather being used is Grade One Spanish goatskin leather. This is one of the finest book leathers obtainable, the skins being subjected to a shrinking process which emphasises its natural texture. Aside from its flexibility the organic nature leather makes it pleasing to the touch in a way that is unobtainable by artificial materials. The cloth is traditional bookcloth which has a better feel than the treated surface of modern buckram. In the 17th Century the use of wooden blocks to create repeat patterns was first introduced from India where it was used for cloth. In the west the technique was soon applied to paper decoration and the decorated endpapers of this book employs a traditional block design. Each component of the pattern has been located by eye so that the imperceptible variations in position of the components make the overall result more organic. The paper for the endpapers used is Italian, 160 gramme tinted and has a high cotton content, in fact one can see the fibres. The paper used for the text itself is 160 gramme Fabriano Ingres, a lush mould made paper with a handsome texture, usually only used for endpapers it is far superior to papers generally used for books. The intent has been to utilise the best leather, cloth and paper feasible.
Copies number 1 to 12 Are quarter bound in leather and have gilt blocked (using pure gold) decoration down the full length of the spine, raised bands, top edge of the pages gilt (using pure gold leaf). The are supplied in a stout slipcase employing the same decorated paper and cloth employed in the binding of the book with a gilt blocked leather label giving the title on the front panel, it being designed so that the spine of the book faces the wall for better protection. For the same reason the slipcase is designed so the spine does not protrude from the slipcase. Internally the slipcase has a suede like material to better cushion and hold the book. The edges of the slipcase are embellished with gilt.
Copies number 13 to 30 are quarter bound and have raised bands blind blocked decoration to the leather spine and all edges have a speckled decoration. They are supplied with a stout slipcase employing a the same decorated paper and cloth used in binding the book. Internally the slipcase has a suede like material to better cushion and hold the book.
Copies number 31 to 120 are quarter bound and have raised bands the blind decoration to spine and speckled decoration to page edges.