Reviewed by LJ Frank
This is the second title (1998) in the Magic in History Series. \It’s a thorough and thought-provoking series. Other works reviewed on NPJ include, Fortunes of Faust and Forbidden Rites.
Conjuring Spirits contains both am interesting general overview and a deep analyses of magical texts and manuscripts by distinguished scholars.
As the reader and researcher discovers the texts were created from a literate environment including ritual elements….and also, “the entities conjured or petitioned, derive from a Christian framework with some admixture from Arabic neo-Platonic and Jewish sources.”
For the Doctors of Medicine during the late Medieval Age (circa 1300-1500), It was a matter of “good practice” to be aware of the theory and superstition behind magic though for all practical purposes conversing with a patient about magic and attendant ritual was one thing and applying them to healing another thing altogether. Awareness was good for paying one’s bills. I should point out that the concept of medieval is a term of historical classification. People living at the time would consider themselves contemporary or “modern”.
More than half the articles are devoted in some form to the neglected area of angelic magic, (as opposed to demonic magic) primarily associated with what is titled the Ars Notaria. The purpose of that is to show the complexity of issues magic was confronted with in the late medieval Ages…from 13th Century to the 16th century.
From traditions to manuscripts to the Book of Angels to Rings, Characters and Images of the Planets to the Invisible Writings in the Secretum Philosophorum to Rituals to Attain the Beatific Vision, to the Devil’s Contemplative and so forth the work is filled with text, footnotes and source material. This is a reference tool for the interested researher. It’s not filled with short rituals, potions, etc., but rather the longer texts that serve as a backdrop.
This is not an easy read if you’re seeking generalities. It requires questioning and pondering. Scholars and readers fascinated by the subject matter of magic should find it of intellectual interest. The essays “represent small openings into a larger realm.” The amount of effort put into developing these texts and rituals indicates its seriousness and emotional appeal for those seeking or in want of a greater spiritual understanding of life and how they might effect change in their own life through rituals with superstition embedded in the effort. This is a thoughtful investigation in the complexities of medieval magic within specific historical period.