Ebenezer Sibly, Solomon’s Clavis, or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Magic, Society of Esoteric Endeavour 2008. 306pp of which 150pp carry text, the remaining being blanks. Every page is printed in full colour. Limited Edition of 144 copies each bearing a talisman embedded in the cover, bound in either full, half or quarter sheepskin leather, every copy is different. Page edges sprinkled.
Sibly wrote the original manuscript c.1800, translating its core from French but also writing many additions including a preface and the talisman designs. The text is entirely different from the Key of Solomon as translated and publishjed by McGregor Mathers. The occult bookseller John Denely (Mr. D. in Bulwer Lytton’s Introduction to Zanoni) sold Sibley’s manuscript for an extraordinary sum to the Duke of Wentworth but whilst in his possession he arranged for Frederick Hockley to make a copy. This copy was then sold to F. G. Irwin who placed his bookplate upon the preliminaries plus also a cut out of the catalogue description (Manuscript…copied from very rare original manuscript with diagrams exquisitely done by a professor). Whilst the scribe signs himself “R.C.” the handwriting can be confidently identified as Hockley’s. The books offered here are facsimile reproductions of Irwin’s copy, also reproducing his bookplate and the catalogue entry. It should be noted that each individual sheet of the original is reproduced, and then the book has been hand sewn in the same sections as the original. So, it is hard to tell from the pages that it is not the original manuscript. Irwin’s bookplate, plus the bookplate on the front pastedown that identifies it as a S.E.E. publication, are both printed on Griffin Mill handmade papers
As with previous S.E.E. publications there is no modern introduction or forward. A 21st viewpoint would jar with those of the original authors and scribe. The desire is to present these, bound in a manner respectful of their intents, so that the reader may establish their own relationship with the material. This relationship may range from scholarly research, and there is a great deal to investigate concerning this work, or else of practical magic.
The original 11pp preface by Sibly (or Sibley – both spellings occur) presents a passionate argument for the nobility and efficacy of magic worked through spirits. He cites Jacob Boehme as an authority.
The introduction describes how the talismans should be made, either on appropriate metals or on animal skin parchment, the animal being ritually slain and the skin specially prepared. An example of one of the talismans on animal skin vellum is embedded in the front cover of each book. The animal was not killed in the manner described however, for practical reasons the vellum was prepared in a particular fashion. Book covers receive a great deal of wear and there would normally be a worry that the design of the talisman would rub off. So a rare 18th century binding solution has been adopted. The vellum is cured to be translucent, the image, in reverse, is then placed on the side of the vellum that is against the book board, The design is clearly visible through the transparent vellum. Some modern readers will feel an understandable discomfort using an animal product in a talisman. Some of the books have the talisman printed in a conventional manner upon “vegetable vellum” which is a paper, made from natural plant products natural plant that is designed to have the same appearance as vellum. These particular copies have a “VEG” component in their order numbers.
Given the planetary natures of the talismans it was felt appropriate that the gilt decoration of the covers should show them encircled by stars. The cloth, sheepskin leather (an excellent binding material rarely used nowadays) and the textured endpapers were all chosen so as not to distract from the talisman itself. These are elegant and hauntingly executed by Hockley. They are also an important social document as to what magic Sibley was asked to do. Whilst the magic involves the respectful conjuration of noble planetary spirits there is an implied acceptance of human foibles, with talismans for the promotion of amorous affairs and games of chance. That said, none are overtly negative. There is no cursing of your neighbours to be found. The ones for good fortune in military affairs reflect the Napoleonic Wars then raging. Curiously there is one for protection against and freedom from slavery. Though some Barbary pirates kidnapped people from the West Country coast at this period, it is a surprise that people in c1800 England feared slavery. However further description of the talisman in the text makes it clear that transportation and bonded labour are also being referred to. We find that we know of these practices by their official euphemisms whilst those who had to fear them just called it slavery.`
The magic described is a curious mix. The exposition of planetary hours, magic squares and so forth being quite mainstream and scholarly, whilst other aspects are of the nature of folk magic. The incenses are not, at all, vegetarian involving a curious mixture of body parts of various wild animals plus plants etc. The astrological considerations involve some star lore and occasional, apparently folkish application of lunar mansions. Also some named Jewish Cabalists are cited as an authority. Whilst the writers all consider the magic to be consistent with Christianity, and Christian powers are invoked, it is not in the Catholic, Ecclesiastical Underground tradition of the Grimoire of Pope Honorius or the Grimoire of the Spirit of the Place. In these works infernal beings are compelled to appear and obey by means of Christian powers. In Sibley’s Clavis of Solomon the powers invoked are noble spirits which are respectfully invoked.
Other texts are appended at the end:-
The Mysterious Ring is a 4pp instruction for the creation of magical rings. The text was influential. The anonymous author of Grimoire of the Spirit of the Place, also published by Society of Esoteric Endeavour, wrote a ritual based on this test.
There is then a series of short texts, some with diagrams, describing the method of working with particular spirits:-
An experiment of the spirit Birto is 4pp
An experiment of the spirit Vassago 5pp
An experiment of the spirit Agares 4pp
Of the Spirit Bealphoras 6pp
The Wheel of Wisdom is a 10pp work probably by Sibley himself concerning the diagram given here which describes a system of attributions. Concentric circles are divided into eighty. One segment gives the title of each ring ie name of angel; name of star (ie planet); metal, stone; tree; herb; animal; bird; colour; odour; day etc. It is a simple system of planetary attributions presented for the purpose of working magic.
The manuscripts of Frederick Hockley has attracted considerable interest in recent years. This is an important example with significant connections with others. A copy of this Society of Esoteric Endeavour edition is the net best thing to owning the original manuscript.