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  • Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic ed. by Frank Klaassen
  • Barbara H. Traister

manuscript studies, Renaissance, magic, scribes, science

Frank Klaassen, ed. Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic. Magic in History. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019. xi + 147 pp., 66 black and white illustrations. $89.95. ISBN: 978-0-271-08368-1.

Frank Klaassen has edited two quite different short, sixteenthcentury magical manuscripts. The first, the Antiphoner Notebook (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Additional B.1), is constructed om the wide margins trimmed om an outdated liturgical text. Folding the resulting parchment strips produced an oblong notebook in which a primary scribe recorded a few short examples of ritual magic and then a series of magical charms that he usually labeled as prayers. The manuscript includes several blank folios. A second, seventeenth-century hand added three additional charms to the original text.

The second manuscript, the Boxgrove Manual (London, British Library, Harley MS 2267), is a quarto, written on paper by a single "less than accomplished" (82) scribe. A note dated 13 February 1600 on the first page of the manuscript indicates that it is a scribal copy commissioned by Owen Lording, parish priest of Boxgrove, Sussex, of a magical text authored by a third person who was neither the cleric nor the careless scribe. Despite its messy appearance, it is a fairly coherent and detailed presentation of the astrological knowledge, the rituals, and the steps necessary to perform a delicate magical feat: conjuring demonic spirits om within the precarious safety of a magical circle.

Thus, Boxgrove is a good example of ritual, learned magic, while the Antiphoner, despite the three brief rituals with which it opens, is most [End Page 353] concerned with practical, everyday magic: medical remedies for toothache, fever, staunching blood, and curing sick pigs; preventive prayers against thieves and witchcraft; and instructions for preparing protective amulets, worn to ward off sudden death or to help women in childbirth. Its text is surprisingly ee of astrological references, even in the brief rituals recorded at its beginning, whereas Boxgrove uses astrology throughout to calibrate the perfect astrological times, by days and even hours, for successful summoning of spirits. Boxgrove concludes with a number of astrological figures indicating days of the week in each season of the year appropriate for this magical ceremony.

Klaassen makes both texts easily accessible for readers. He gives numbers and (when they are not supplied) titles for items in each manuscript for easy reference. The volume's apparatus consists of a general introduction to the magic of the period, separate introductions for each text, separate endnotes for each introduction and each text, and three short appendices to Boxgrove.

Despite their quite different styles and contents, both manuscripts have a good deal in common. Each relies heavily on earlier magical printed texts and manuscripts. The Antiphoner borrows a good deal om Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft, a work that, even as it debunked belief in magic and witchcraft, offered so many detailed examples of magic and superstition that it became a source for people seeking to practice the very magic it argues against. In addition, many of the charms that make up the bulk of the Antiphoner are derived om medieval magical manuscripts. Boxgrove relies most heavily on printed Latin texts: Agrippa von Nettesheim's De occulta philosophia, especially its wrongly attributed fourth book; and the pseudonymous Peter of Abano's Heptameron, as Klaassen's table of sources in the first Boxgrove appendix makes clear. But many of its explicit details—for example, for ritual purification and for preparation of materials for the conjuring ritual—derive om medieval magical texts. Despite their reliance on earlier magical writings, however, both manuscripts contain original touches and make careful changes to their source texts. For instance, when recording charms found in earlier manuscripts, the Antiphoner's scribe nearly always changed the word charm to prayer, perhaps to make the magical details in his text less obvious. Boxgrove's author stressed the danger [End Page 354] to the conjuror once he had summoned spirits, and at least twice urged the...


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