Sunday, August 16, 2009

Five best magic books in an earlier America

Owen Davies, Reader in Social History at the University of Hertfordshire, has written extensively on the history of popular magic, witchcraft, and ghosts. His new book is Grimoires: A History of Magic Books.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books on magic in an earlier America.

One title on the list:
Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

The title is provocative, but of course Moses did not write the "Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses." The book (whose actual author is unknown) was based on ancient but enduring claims that Moses wrote down more divine knowledge than was contained in the first five books of the Hebrew bible. Like "The Long Lost Friend," it had its origins in late 18th-century Germany, and its first publication in the U.S. was targeted at the Pennsylvania Dutch. English-language editions appeared in 1880. The notion of ­Moses as an all-knowing African prophet and ­magician was a powerful one for ­African-Americans. They ­embraced the "Sixth and Seventh Book"—with its pseudo-Hebraic talismans and magical psalms—as a text that had long been withheld from them by the white establishment. Its reputation suffered in the early 20th century due to claims that it lay ­behind a spate of Pennsylvanian "hex murders," such as the case of the Reading blacksmith, Peter Leas, who chopped off a friend's head in 1916.
Read about another book on Davies' list.

Also see Davies' list of the top ten grimoires.

The Page 99 Test: Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies.

--Marshal Zeringue