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Reviewed by:
  • Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic ed. by Frank Klaassen
  • László Sándor Chardonnens

Elizabethan England, Early Modern England, books of magic, sixteenth century, seventeenth century, primary sources, Antiphoner Notebook, Boxgrove Manual, Cornelius Agrippa, Protestantism, Reginald Scot

frank klaassen, ed. Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019. Pp. xi + 147.

Modern practitioners of magic who are interested in older sources can turn to a range of editions by occult presses that cater to their needs. Scholars and students of magic studies, on the other hand, are less well served by these same publications; with some positive exceptions, that is, such as the work of Joseph Peterson. Yet since Peterson cannot be expected to edit all surviving medieval and early modern source texts, it is fortunate that one of the leading scholars in the field of early modern ritual magic, Frank Klaassen, has now turned his attention from merely studying to also editing books of magic from early modern England, starting with the publication of two concise manuals in an effort to expand "our understanding of sixteenth-century magic" (2). Having studied Making Magic in Elizabethan England in detail alongside facsimiles of the two books of magic in question, it is my firm conviction that Klaassen has succeeded in this aim.

Making Magic has a general introduction followed by separate introductions to, and editions of, both books of magic; it also includes a set of appendices, a bibliography, and an index. The general introduction outlines the conditions under which magic transitioned from the Middle Ages into Early Modernity, with a focus on ritual magic and charms—two quite distinct forms of magic that were increasingly found side by side in early modern books of magic. The central argument of the general introduction is that early modern magical practices are rooted in medieval customs, but that they evolved under the influence of cultural, religious, and legislative changes in sixteenth-century England. The social backgrounds of the practitioners were, furthermore, more varied than the medieval clerical underworld as a result of social and religious turmoil in the early modern period. Part III of Klaassen's 2013 study The Transformations of Magic devotes attention to the same period, but I find that Making Magic presents the social and cultural dynamics of early modern ritual magic more effectively. [End Page 277]

The first book of magic introduced and edited in Making Magic is Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Add. B. 1. Introduced as the Antiphoner Notebook, this text was copied in the late sixteenth century onto cuttings from the wide margins of a large fourteenth-century liturgical manuscript. The Antiphoner Notebook innovatively combines charms with conjurations and experiments. Perhaps the work of a cunning man, the Antiphoner Notebook focuses "on the three common areas of activity in this group: healing, thief identification, and treasure hunting" (19). A notable feature of the Antiphoner Notebook is its frequent use of materials from Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), a study of "the irrationality of belief in magic and witchcraft" and Catholicism (24). Scot presented many examples of magical and Catholic practices, which were subsequently reused without the anti-magical and anti-Catholic rhetoric by practicing magicians, such as the scribe of the Antiphoner Notebook, in "a self-conscious process of re-enchantment" (25, emphasis Klaassen's).

Another noteworthy component of the Antiphoner Notebook is an experiment with a wax puppet to punish a thief (item 1 in the edition). Klaassen opines that "the use of wax images for harm in necromantic (i.e., demon conjuring) collections is curiously uncommon" (23), in contrast to its frequent appearance in legal contexts and astral magic. Yet the use of wax puppets is anything but uncommon in early modern necromancy. Cursory reading of the surviving sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English necromantic manuscripts yields about twenty texts on the construction of wax puppets for compelling thieves, harming people, and even constraining rebellious spirits. Half of these are analogues to the experiment in the Antiphoner Notebook (London, British Library, Add. MS 36674, fols. 88r, 88v, and 164r–165r (three separate texts), Sloane...


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