Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas magic - Rylands new exhibition casts a few of our spells!

Our friends at the John Rylands Library have found the midnight of the year - the shortest day and eve of the longest night in twelve months - the best time to launch their exhibition on the dark arts,
Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World, curated by Jenny Spinks and Sasha Handley. We've been able to lend one or two items to add to the mix: here are a few examples of the kind of thing we're talking about:

John Dee's copy of De Remediis Secretis, Lyon, 1555
This is the title-page of a tiny printed book, evidently bought by John Dee, polymath, astronomer,  mage, astrologer, adventurer, scientist, bibliophile and talker to the angels, as soon as it came out. He covered his copy with notes and sketches as well as signing and dating the title page firmly in his fashionable Italianate scholar's hand. Wisely so, if not necessarily effectively, as the huge library he built up over the course of his life was pillaged more than once. He may not have seen himself as a   sorcerer, but whispers abounded, and the knowledge he and a very few others in the western world  were exploring seemed like magic to most. Dee's remarkable role in the academic life of his age is about to be the subject of another interesting exhibition, Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians.

While Dee may have been at one or more removes from actual Black Sabbaths and midnight excavations, our manuscript of Tractatus de Nigromantia could slot very neatly into a Hammer Horror set.  Much as the scholar Konrad Gesner hid behind the pseudonym 'Euonymus Philiater' in writing of his secret remedies in Dee's book, a series of magical works falsely claiming to be the work of the Franciscan philosopher  Roger Bacon were circulated, including this with its fantastic scripts and impenetrable diagrams. We've already given it some airtime on our website as part of our 101 treasures, so we'll let the pictures speak for themselves - go to see the exhibition, but be safely in bed by midnight on Christmas Eve ...

All a little baffling? Scroll on ...
Beginning to get any clearer?
Now this diagram evidently explains Ezechiel.
But would Ezechiel himself be any wiser for it?
A Happy Christmas to one and all!