An Experiment for the Dead

 Reginald Scot's  Discoverie of Witchcraft  (London, 1584)

Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1584)

My new webinar course on early modern cunning-craft - once more hosted by those devilishly handsome chaps at Wolf & Goat - begins on Saturday 21 April. This course will be the first of the Sourcebook Series, concentrating on close reading and analysis of particular primary source texts. In this case, I have chosen to begin with a bang by exploring Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft, a text of central importance to early modern demonology, ritual magic, and folk charms as well as witchcraft itself. 

So what's the big deal with Scot's Discoverie? Why should we pay attention to a book that was, after all, written explicitly to dismiss magic as superstition and magicians as idiots, madmen, frauds and con-men? Well, in short, owing to its incredibly detailed records of the very spells and magical operations it criticised, the book became a staple in the modest libraries of folk magicians. Recent scholarship has demonstrated that this tome was in fact popularly received as ‘a treasure trove of magical information, providing spells, Catholic prayers, exorcisms, charms, talismans, and rituals on how to communicate with angels, demons, and the spirits of the dead’. One historian has even gone so far as to suggest that ‘Scot produced what amounted to the first grimoire printed in the English language, and while he did so to prove the worthlessness of its contents he unwittingly ended up democratizing ritual magic rather than undermining it.’ Powerful stuff indeed.

This is what I wish to explore and celebrate in my upcoming Sourcebook Course: Discoverie of Witchcraft - not simply a historical explication of the material in this book, but an engagement with the text that mirrors the reception and articulation of this book by our early modern cunning forebears, actually working this tome as a resource for practical magical results. 

But what, I might hear you asking, are these spells, rituals, and charms contained within like? How detailed are the descriptions? What can be done with them? In order to answer this, I'd like to direct your attention to one of the more infamous and explicitly necromantic operations contained therein: An Experiment for the Dead. Described in the marginalia as a 'Conjuring for a dead spirit', the rite involves summoning the ghost of a suicide or an executed person. Crucially, it also involves a 'Crystal Stone', visiting the grave of the person whose shade you wish to summon, a hazel wand, a lamen or protective seal to wear on the breast of the operator, and notes on other equipment and techniques. Finally, the working is also fascinating because it expressly charges the ghost to go to fetch 'the faerie Sibylia', a 'gentle Virgine [Queen] of Fairies'!

I thus include the entire Chapter XVII of Book XV detailing this operation for your edification.

CHAP. XVII. An Experiment of the Dead

First fast pray three dayes, and abstain thee from all filthiness; go to one that is now buried, such a one as killed himself, or destroyed himself wilfully: or else get the promise of one that shall be hanged, and let him swear an Oath to thee, after his body is dead, that his Spirit shall come to thee, and do thee true service, at thy commandements, in all days, hours, and minutes. And let no persons see thy doings, but thy fellow. And about eleven a clock at night, go to the place where he was buried, and say with a bold faith, and hearty desire; to have the spirit come that thou dost call for, thy fellow having a Candle, in his left hand, and in his right hand a Crystal-stone, and say these words following, the Master having a Hazel-wand in his right hand, and these names of God written thereupon, Tetragrammaton + Adonai + Agla + Craton + Then strike three strokes on the ground, and say;

Arise N. Arise N. Arise N. I'conjure thee Spirit N. by the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou do obey my words, and come unto me this night verily and truly, as thou believest to be saved at the day of Judgment. And I will swear to thee an Oath, by the peril of my soul, that if thou wilt come to me, and appear to me this night, and shew me true visions in this Crystal-stone, and fetch me the fairie Sibylia, that I may talk with her visibly and she may come before me, as the Conjuration leadeth: and in so doing I will give thee an alms-deed, and pray for thee N. to my Lord God, whereby thou mayest be restored to thy Salvation at the Resurrection day, to be received as one of the Elect of God, to the everlasting glory. Amen.

The Master standing at the head of the grave, his fellow having in his hands the Candle and the Stone, must begin the conjuration as followeth, and the Spirit will appear to you in the Crystal-stone, in a fair form of a child of twelve years of age. And when he is in, feel the stone, and it will be hot; and fear nothing, for he or she will shew many delusions, to drive you from your work: Fear God, but fear him not. This is to constrain him, as followeth.

I conjure thee Spirit N. by the living God, the true God, and by the holy God, and by their vertues and powers which have created both thee and me, and all the world. I conjure thee N. by these holy Names of God, Note in marg: Note what these great words may do. Tetragrammaton + Adonay + Algramay + Saday + Sabaoth + Planaboth + Panthon + Craton + Neupmaton + Deus + Homo + Omnipotens + Sempiternus + Ysus + Lerra + Vnigentius + Salbator + Via + Vita + Manus + Fons + Origo + Filius +. And by their vertues and powers, and by all their names, by the which God gave power to man, both to speak or think; so by their vertues and powers I conjure thee spirit N. that now immediately thou do appear in this Crystal-stone visibly to me and to my fellow, without any tarrying or deceit. I conjure thee N. by the excellent Name of Jesus Christ ? and O the first and the last. For this holy Name of Jesus is above all Names; for in this Name of Jesus every knee doth bow and obey, both of heavenly things, earthly things, and infernal. And every tongue doth confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of the Father: neither is there any other Name given to man whereby he must be saved. Therefore in the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, and by his Nativity, Resurrection, and Ascension, and by all that appertaineth unto his passion, and by their vertues and powers I conjure thee Spirit N. that thou do appear visibly in this Crystal-stone to me, and to my fellow, without any dissimulation. I conjure thee N. by the blood of the innocent Lamb Jesus Christ, which was shed for us upon the cross; for all those that do believe in the vertue of his blood shall be saved. I conjure thee N. by the vertues and powers of all the royal names and words of the living God of me pronounced, that thou be obedient unto me and to my words rehearsed. If thou refuse this to do, I by the Holy Trinity, and by their vertues and powers do condemn thee thou Spirit N. into the place where there is no hope of remedy or rest, but everlasting horror of pain there dwelling, and a place where there is pain upon pain, dayly, horribly, and lamentably, thy pain to be there augmented as the Starrs in the Heaven, and as the gravel or Sand in the Sea: except thou Spirit N. do appear to me and to my fellow visibly, immediately in this Crystal Stone, and in a fair form and shape of a child of twelve years of age, and that thou alter not thy shape, I change thee upon pain of everlasting condemnation. I conjure thee Spirit N. by the golden Girdle, which girdeth the loins of our Lord Jesus Christ; so thou Spirit N. be thou bound into the perpetual pains of Hell fire, for thy disobedience and unreverent regard, that thou hast to the holy names and words, and his precepts. I conjure N. by the two edged Sword, which John saw proceed out of the month of the Almighty; and so thou Spirit N. be torn and cut in pieces with that Sword, and to be condemned into everlasting pain, where the fire goeth not out, and where the worm dyeth not. I conjure thee N. by the Heavens, and by the celestial City of Jerusalem, and by the Earth and the Sea, and by all things contained in them, and by their vertues and powers; I conjure thee Spirit N. by the obedience that thou dost owe unto the principal Prince. And except thou Spirit N. do come and appear visibly in this Crystal-stone in my presence, here immediately as it is aforesaid, Let the great curse of God, the anger of God, the shadow and darkness of death, and of eternal condemnation be upon thee Spirit N. for ever and ever; because thou hast denyed thy faith, thy health, and salvation. For thy great disobedience, thou art worthy to be condemned. Therefore let the divine Trinity, Thrones, Dominions, Principates, Potestates, Virtutes, Cherubim and Seraphim, and all the souls of Saints, both of men and women, condemn thee for ever, and be a witness against thee at the day of judgment, because of thy disobedience. And let all creatures of our Lord Jesus Christ, say thereunto Fiat, Fiat, fiat. Amen.

And when he is appeared in the Crystal-stone, as is said before, bind him with this bond as followeth; to wit,

I conjure thee Spirit N. that art appeared to me in this Crystal-stone, to me and to my fellow; I conjure thee by all the royall words aforesaid, the which did constrain thee to appear therein, and their vertues; I charge thee by them all, that thou shall not depart out of this Crystal-stone, until my will being fulfilled, thou be licened to depart. I conjure and bind thee Spirit N. by that omnipotent God, which commanded the Angel S. Michael to drive Lucifer out of the Heavens with a Sword of vengeance, and to fall from joy to pain; and for dread of such pain as he is in, I charge thee Spirit N. that thou shalt not go out of the Crystal-stone; nor yet to alter thy shape at this time, except I command thee otherwise; but to come unto me at all places, and in all hours and minutes, when and wheresoever I shall call thee, by the vertue of our Lord Jesus Christ, or by any Conjuration of words that is written in this Book, and to shew me and my friends true visions in this Crystal-stone, of any thing or things that we would see, at any time or times; and also to go and fetch me the fairy Sibylia, that I may talk with her in all kind of talk, as I shall call her by any Conjuration of words contained in this Book. I conjure thee Spirit N. by the great wisdom and divinity of his Godhead, my will to fulfill as is aforesaid; I charge thee upon pain of condemnation, both in this world and in the world to come, Fiat, fiat, fiat. Amen.

This done, go to the place fast by, and in a fair Parlor or Chamber, make a circle with chalk, as hereafter followeth: and make another circle for the fairy Sibylia to appear in four foot from the circle thou art in, and make no names therein, or cast any holy thing therein; but make a circle round with chalk; and let the Master and his fellow sit down in this circle, the Master having the Book in his hand, his fellow having the Crystal-stone in his right hand, looking in the Stone when the Fairy doth appear. The Master also must have upon his brest this figure here written in Parchment, and begin to work in the new of the {Moon} and in the hour of {Jupiter} the {Sun} and the {Moon} to be in one of inhabiters signes, as . This bond as followeth, is to cause the Spirit in the Crystal-stone, to fetch unto thee the fairy Sibylia. All things fulfilled, begin this bond as followeth, and behold, for doubtles they will come before thee, before the Conjuration be read seven times.

I conjure thee spirit N. in this Crystal-stone, by God the Father, by God the Son Jesus Christ, and by God the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, and by their vertues, I conjure thee spirit, that thou do go in peace, and also come again to me quickly, and to bring with thee into that circle appointed, Sibylia Fairie, that I may talk with her in those matters that shall be to her honour and glory; and so I charge thee declare unto her. I conjure thee spirit N. by the blood of the innocent Lamb, the which redeemed all the world, by the vertue thereof I charge thee thou spirit in the Crystal-stone, that thou do declare unto her this message. Also I conjure thee spirit N. by all Angels and Archangels, Thrones, Dominations, Principates, Potestates, Virtutes, Cherubim and Seraphim, and by their vertues and powers. I conjure thee N. that thou do depart with speed, and also to come again with speed, and to bring with thee the fairie Sibylia, to appear in that circle before I do read the Conjuration in this Book seven times. Thus I charge thee my will to be fulfilled, upon pain of everlasting condemnation: Fiat, fiat, fiat. Amen.

sothis dow necromancy figure.png

Then the figure aforesaid [above] pinned on thy brest, rehearse the words therein, and say + Sorthie + Sorthia + Sorthios + then begin your Conjuration as followeth here, and say;

I conjure thee Sibylia, O gentle Virgine of Fairies, by the mercy of the Holy Ghost, and by the dreadful day of doom, and by their vertues and powers, I conjure thee Sibylia, O gentle Virgine of Fairies, and by all the Angels of {Jupiter} and their characters and vertues, and by all the spirits of {Jupiter} and {Earth} and their characters and vertues, and by all the characters that be in the Firmament, and by the King and Queen of Fairies, and their vertues, and by the faith and obedience that thou bearest unto them. I conjure thee Sibylia by the blood that ran out of the side of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, and by the opening of Heaven, and by the renting of the Temple, and by the darkness of the Sun in the time of his death, and by the rising up of the dead in the time of his Resurrection, and by the Virgin Mary Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the unspeakable Name of God Letragramaton. I conjure thee O Sibylia; O blessed and beautiful Virgin, by all the royall words aforesaid, I conjure thee Sibylia, by all their vertues to appear in that circle before me visibly, in the form and shape of a beautiful woman in a bright and white vesture, adorned and garnished most fair, and to appear to me quickly without deceit or tarrying; and that thou fail not to fulfil my will and desire effectually: For I will choose thee to be my blessed Virgin, and will have common copulation with thee. Therefore make hast and speed to come unto me, and to appear as I have said before. To whom be honour and glory for ever and ever, Amen.

The which done and ended, if she come not, repeat the Conjuration till they do come: for doubtless they will come. And when she is appeared, take your censers, and incense her with frankincense; then bind her with the bond as followeth:

I do conjure thee Sibylia, by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Gost, three Persons and one God, and by the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ; and by all the whole and holy company of Heaven, and by the dreadful day of doom, and by all Angels and Archangels, Thrones, Dominations, Principates, Potestates, Virtutes, Cherubim and Seraphim, and their vertues and powers. I conjure thee and bind thee Sibylia, that thou shalt not depart out of the circle wherein thou art appeared, nor yet to alter thy shape; except I give thee licence to depart. I conjure thee Sibylia by the blood that ran out of the side of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, and by the vertue hereof I conjure thee Sibylia to come to me, and to appear to me at all times visibly, as the Conjuration of words leadeth, written in this Book. I conjure thee Sibylia, O blessed Virgin of Fairies, by the opening of Heaven, and by the renting of the Temple, and by the darkness of the Sun at the time of his death, Note in marg: If all this will not fetch her up, the Devil is a Knave. and by the rising of the dead in the time of his glorious Resurrection, and by the unspeakable Name of God + Tetragrammaton + and by King and Queen of Fairies, and by their vertues I conjure thee Sibylia to appear, before the Conjuration be read over four times, and that visibly to appear,as the the Conjuration leadeth written in this Book, and to give me good counsel at all times, and to come by treasures hidden in the earth, and all other things that is to do me pleasure, and to fulfil my will without any deceit or tarrying; nor yet that thou shalt have any power of my body or soul, earthly or ghostly; nor yet to perish so much of my body as one hair of my head. I conjure thee Sibylia by all the royal words aforesaid, and by their vertues and powers, I charge and bind thee by the vertue thereof, to be obedient unto me, and to all the words aforesaid, and this bond to stand between thee and me, upon pain of everlasting condemnation. Fiat, fiat, fiat, Amen.

I'm sure you can agree, there is plenty to get one's teeth into with this operation alone! The three-part webinar course I'm beginning on Saturday will address these and other similar operations as well as further contextualising the book, and offering examples of the actual use of such workings. We will, for instance, discuss the seventeenth-century cunning-woman Mary Parrish's apparent adaptation of a rite somewhat similar to the above working to summon and secure the ghost of an executed friend she had met in debtor's prison. 

So I hope you can join me on this webinar course for what promises to be an exciting exploration of early modern cunning-craft. As always, if you'd like to know more feel free to email at consultantsorcerer@gmail.com.

dow ad1.PNG