So this is a gripping book, let’s start with that. If you’re just here to skim down and see if it goes on your wishlist then yes… it does. Somewhere toward the top.
The two texts that make up the bulk of Crossed Keys, the Black Dragon and the Enchiridion of Pope Leo III, are the first previously-unread-by-me grimoires I have encountered since reading Owen Davies’s Grimoires.
What Owen Davies shows is that the movement of grimoires and magical texts around Europe was a lot like music piracy in the days before the internet:
Horrible copies of horrible copies of Spandau Ballet tribute acts, passed around among an audience who didn’t or couldn’t know any better.
Texts were bastardised according to country, the publisher/pirate’s understanding of Latin, available printing technology, the varying religious fervour of local authorities and manufacturing efficiencies (If they could print fewer pages they would).
All of this results in -if we’re lucky- the existence of multiple versions of popular texts, or completely different texts attributed to the same fake author (‘Solomon’ sells better than ‘Smith’).
The fake author stuff has never been an issue. Magicians speak the language of myths. We know a Bronze Age Israeli tribal warlord didn’t write a medieval manuscript about undergarments that make you invisible. We know what is intended by the attribution. (Sidebar: I’m also reading the amazing Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: The Biography right now and she provides some fascinating insight into how this technique was used in assembling the Scriptures. Authorship was matched to content and the political purpose of the Gospels. Great book.)
No, speaking personally, what has always been more difficult has been determining which bits to jettison as ridiculous, poorly-printed gloop and which bits appear closest to the intent of the original manuscript. If you own more than one Goetia then you know what I mean.
You begin to understand why they get fine arts students to restore old paintings rather than training up a staff. Their expertise is felt in the clarity of their output and the invisibility of their hand. Grimoires makes a splendid complement to Crossed Keys because you can appreciate just how much effort went into this publication.
Ryan points out in his own review that it’s like getting an insight into the origins of hoodoo. Which is a great way to think about it. Europe was awash with people ‘misusing’ the psalms, Catholic prayers, etc during the Mercantile Era. Getting a glimpse of it before it’s spectacular hybridisation is fascinating. It’s like suddenly realising there’s this whole other half of the family that no one knows very well.
Apparently there is going to be some supplemental material to complement the extracts from Michael’s magical diary that comprises the fascinating middle section of the book. I bought it two days ago, haven’t used it so didn’t notice any ‘gaps’.
To be honest, as he points out himself, I wouldn’t be the least bit bothered if Michael doesn’t release it at all. People can only be hand-held so far. What’s the next step? Can I get him to come over and construct my circle for me? (Actually…)
Not that I won’t devour the supplement, though. In fact, I will say that the whole ‘journey’ of the Surgat operation would make a gripping series of blog posts. And that’s three birds with one stone:
- Explanation for those who want it.
- Advertising for an estimable magico-literary achievement.
- Coming up with more ideas for blog posts. (And most of us are familiar with that particular fuckery.)
I bought the bibliotheque rouge (cute name) edition because I bought The Red Goddess and two other books at the same time and didn’t want to lug heavy books and my laptop to the theatre. (Bonus review: Warhorse. Meh. The end.) Also there was only one left at Atlantis and I hate missing out. (This is how I feel about eating endangered species sometimes.)
So yes. It’s a great book. Buy it.
If that hasn’t convinced, have I mentioned there’s a shout out to RO in there? (Wheeee! It’s like the internet but made of dead trees!)