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CONJURING SPIRITS - Texts and Traditions of Late Medieval Ritual Magic

Edited by Professor Claire Fanger, published by Sutton Publishing Limited at £40.00. HBk. 224pp. ISBN 0-7509-1381-9

Conjuring Spirits is the latest in Sutton Publishing's new Magic in History series of serious scholarly volumes by leading academics, and contains some dozen or so papers and essays covering a variety of subjects and approaches.

Several of the chapters focus on specific medieval magical manuscripts; one of these presents a complete Latin text with parallel English translation with commentary and notes of the Liber de Angelis (Book of Angels), a 15th century text of angelic and planetary magic, including angelic invocations and a series of spells and rituals for obtaining what one desires, as well as an early example of instructions for the creation and use of planetary magic squares, while other essays explore the visual art of the Ars Notoria, John the Monk's Book of Visions and a 13th century ritual for obtaining beatific visions contained in Honorius of Thebes' Sworn Book. Other chapters include a survey of English magical manuscripts between 1200 and 1500 and a fragmentary medieval German divination device amongst a number of others.

The book focuses on a number of themes including the meaning of the manuscripts to those who produced and collected them in the middle ages, on the relationship between magic, magicians and society, on the medieval perception of the nature of magic as it is depicted in the manuscripts themselves and especially on the immense importance of magic carried out with the help of images of various kinds. Although those texts concerning angelic magic focus on achieving contact with the divine and in furthering the spiritual state of the magician, what is made very clear is that although magic was considered by many of its practitioners to be a natural science, to the medieval mind it was lnevertheless argely about achieving power - the power to coerce demons, angels and other mortals to do the magician's will whether that be for the attainment of wealth, for sexual coertion or for pure malice. There is little space here, at the roots of most of modern western magic, for moral scruples such as those contained in the wiccan rede. But then again, there were no wiccans in those days.

This is not by any means a book for the casual reader but a serious academic study which will be of tremendous interest to the committed student of the history of western occultism and magic and is highly recommended. Incidentally, a paperback edition, costing £14.99, is planned for UK publication in early 1999.