Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sepher Raziel transcribed by Don Karr & modernized by Stephen Skinner

Golden Hoard Press.  264 pages.  Illustrated.  Octavo. 2010

Standard Edition: Cloth, unlimited.

Leather Edition: Burgundy bonded-leather boards, half bound in black calf, & limited to 250 copies.

Sepher Raziel, also known as Liber Solomonis, is the sixth book in Golden Hoard Press' 'Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic' series.  It is preceded chronologically by The Practical Angel Magic of John Dee's Enochain Tables, The Keys to the Gateway of Magic, The Goetia of Dr. Rudd, The Veritable Key of Solomon, and The Grimoire of St. Cyprian -- Clavis Inferni.  The 'Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic' series is one of the most important series on ceremonial and grimoire magic in print today, rivaled only by the 'Magic in History' series, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, and the 'Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic' series, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

This particular copy of Sepher Raziel comes from Sloane MS 3826, an English grimoire dating to 1564.  The book is divided into two main parts: the original text transcribed by Don Karr, and a modern English version updated by Stephen Skinner.  It's nice to have both together for an easy side-by-side comparison.  Skinner's modern English version is particularly useful for modern practitioners who may not be fond of Elizabethan grammar and syntax.

Sepher Raziel opens with a Foreword by Stephen Skinner in which he discusses the origins of the text, its multiple variants, the provenance of Sloan MS 3826, and other texts Sepher Raziel has influenced, such as The Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses (all wonderfully footnoted).  According to legend the original Sepher Raziel was inscribed on a sapphire stone, much like the Emerald Tablet of Hermes.  The name 'Raziel' means 'Secrets of God', so clearly this was very important knowledge bestowed unto Man.  However it seems Raziel didn't get permission before revealing this potent knowledge.  As a result, the text changed hands between heaven and earth a number of times and eventually came to be in the possession of none other than King Solomon (who else?).

Following the Foreword is a piece by Don Karr titled, 'The Study of Solomonic Magic in English'.  Karr gives a solid overview of what constitutes 'Solomonic Magic' as well as the books that define the tradition, including Sepher Raziel and many others.  This is followed by a brief introduction to the text.

The sections of Sepher Raziel are as follows:

  1. Liber Clavis, the Book of the Key of Astronomy and of the Stars
  2. Ala, the Virtues of some Stones, Herbs, Beasts, and Words
  3. Tractatus Thymiamatus of Suffumigations 
  4. Treatise of Times of the Day and of the Night
  5. Treatise of Purity and of Abstinance
  6. Samaim which Names all of the Heavens and their Angels
  7. Book of Virtues and Miracles and the properties of the Ark of Magic

Sepher Raziel includes two Appendices.  Appendix 1, 'Incense Nomenclature', is laid out as a handy table to assist the reader in identification of botanicals, as certain perfumes and resins can somewhat confusingly go by many different names.  Appendix 2, 'Selected Table of the Angels in Sepher Raziel', makes magical timing easy by mapping out Angelic, Planetary, and Elemental correspondences and associations with clear and time-saving tables.  These tables (and more) can also be found in Skinner's Complete Magician's Tables (highly recommended).  Also included are a lengthy bibliography and index.

The leather edition has boards that appear to be covered in textured burgundy bonded-leather.  The rest is half-bound in black calf.  I suspect the decision to use bonded-leather was to keep the cost reasonable and under $200.  *A note on bonded-leather:  Bonded-leather can be made at a fraction of the cost of 'real' leather.  It may seem like a poor-man's substitute, but it shouldn't be criticized too harshly.  Bonded-leather is made from scraps and trimmings from the leather industry.  I believe when an animal is butchered for human use none of it should be wasted.  Thus, bonded-leather is a relatively environmentally responsible product (at least for those who don't have a problem using leather in the first place).  Furthermore, bonded-leather techniques have come a long way.  The old stuff had a plastic-like look and feel, but more recent improvements have created a far superior product.  In fact, some bonded-leathers are almost indistinguishable from 'real' leather.

The black calf portion of the binding is soft and supple.  The spine has seven raised bands with title, authors, and press stamped in gold.  Unlike other volumes in this series, there is no front tile (usually they are stamped in gold) -- a rather odd and unfortunate decision.  The book opens to printed endpapers marbled in gold, green, and cream.  I must say, I'm not very fond of printed faux-marbling.  It's not fooling anyone, and it reminds me of cheap gift-wrap.  I realize hand-marbled paper can be expensive; however, if cost is an issue I would prefer solid-colored paper with a nice texture over faux-marbling, as it doesn't pretend to be something it is not.  The book is finished with red/gold head and tail bands with a red ribbon bookmark.  The book includes a loosely inserted bookplate signed by Don Karr depicting the familiar horned image of Lucifuge Rofocale as found in Le Dragon Rouge.  The limitation page is signed by Stephen Skinner.  Text is crisp on smooth matte paper of medium weight.  I appreciate the spacious margins given to text-blocks.  The title is printed in red.  Some black & white scans of actual manuscript pages are included to give the reader an idea of how the text appears in its original form.  These can be a little difficult to read, as the words are small and written in a crabbed hand.

Overall it is a very classy presentation that is somewhat uniform with others in the series.  With the exception of Volumes 1-4, each volume in the series has black leather spines and uniquely colored boards.  It seems the series is constructed with both aesthetics and functionality in mind.  It is a very handsome book, yet durable enough to withstand years of practical use.  Whether a scholar or Solomonic magician, look no further than Sepher Raziel and others in Golden Hoard's  'Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic' series, for as the press' name implies, they are a veritable treasure trove.