Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in several editions between 1584 and 1665, has been a personal inspiration for a long time. Scot’s work is notorious for its sixteenth book, which is a compilation of magical materials, apparently compiled from the works of two cunning-men, ‘T.R.’ and John Cokars. Scot intended to present these materials as a way to confute the practice of conjuration, and also to draw parallels between magical and ‘popish conjurations’ of Catholic ritual. However, in doing so he provided many a would-be conjurer with all the materials they required to begin working magic: it’s no surprise that many manuscripts, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the work of both learned and less well educated scribes, contain interpolations from the work of Scot.
The materials that Scot presents might at first seem obscure or idiosyncratic to modern readers whose knowledge was, until relatively recently, often informed by works such as Waite’s Book of Black Magic, which broadly ignore collections of English ‘experiments’ in magic, in favour of Continental publications. Yet it is evident, after examining various manuscripts and handbooks of English magicians, that what Scot presented was broadly representative of the ‘tradition’ of magic as it was practiced in England during the 16th century. Spirit names like Bealphares and Sibylia, well known to readers of Scot, crop up in works such as the Folger ‘Book of Magic’ [pdf buy], with alarming regularity.