By Elizabeth M Butler, published by Sutton Publishing Limited at £14.99. 352p. ISBN: 0-7509-1859-4
Ritual Magic is a new reprint of a work originally published in the 1950s which has, over the decades since, achieved a recognised and respected status as the definitive academic study of western magic, the textual evidence for it in the form of the various manuscripts of subsequent centuries and of many of the famous and influential practitioners of magic up to the end of the last century.
Starting from a brief consideration of the role of magic in Egypt and its influence on later Hellenic magical texts and practices, Butler goes on to trace the influences of Jewish esoteric spirituality and magic on the emergence of a system of ritual magic in medieval Europe. She considers in depth the texts known as the Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon and the works of Honorius and Agrippa and traces their influences upon well know magical figures of the later middle ages and the renaissance before turning her attention to examining the development of the Faust legend and the manner in which its themes influenced later developments in magic in the 17th and 18th centuries. She traces the change from the earlier position in which the magician was expected to manage to renege on his pact with demons to that found within the Faust legends in which the magician has sold his soul to the Devil but is unable to ultimately find a loophole in the contract of sale. It must be said that she does cover some very familiar territory, including an examination of the use of magic at the court of Louis XIV (and particular the Madame de Montespan scandal) and the use of magic, or perhaps charlatanry, by figures such as Casanova before finally turning to consider the development of magic in the 19th centuries at the hands of Levi and his contemporaries.
It must be said that the book reflects the academic attitudes of its time. Butler was not writing for a pagan or magical readership but an sceptical academic one, and her attitude to magic is openly sceptical, even downright hostile as is shown by her often emotive use of language she routinely uses the word "exorcist" when she means a magician, for example. This attitude may well irritate the reader with a specific interest and belief in magic and I suspect that had the book been written today it would have been more even handed in its attitude. If you can live with the attitude problem, this is actually an excellent, though not easy, read and should provide much useful background and reference information for the more academically-minded ceremonial magician and those with an interest in the development of western magic.