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.

One of the most striking elements of Scot’s magical collection is a figure depicting the seals of the seven planetary angels, as well as ‘Seales of Earth’ (possibly to be drawn on the ground as part of magical rites) and two smaller seals, possibly to be worn by those practicing the art:

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The triangular figure can be found in at least one manuscript of the Thesaurus Spirituum, generally attributed to Roger Bacon, and likely pre-dating Scot. A mutilated copy of this work appears in Add. 36,674 and features the device on f.152r, althoughI have been unable to find an early source for the lozenge-shaped design in Scot’s illustration:

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However, it is the two figures at the bottom of Scot’s page that have always intrigued me. Gregg of Hermetech Mastering recently enquired about the source of the seal featured on Gemma Gary’s Cornish Witchcraft site, which spurred me to find other instances of the seals in manuscript works. Scot’s source says the the first seal ensures that the spirits will ‘do homage’ to anyone wearing it, while the second will make a man ‘fear no foe, but God’. However, as with much in the tradition of magical manuscripts, other copyists and writers expressed different interpretations. Here are some examples from the 16th – 19th centuries.

In the aforementioned Folger MS. (prior to Scot, dating from the 1570s-1580s), the pair of seals first appear as part of an elaborate charm for gambling (MS.V.b.26(1), p.48):

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Later in the manuscript (p.145), the two seals appear again amidst an array of talismans for diverse purposes:

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In the above case, the function of the seals are the same as those found in Scot’s work. A dramatically simplified ‘seal of earth’ also occurs two pages later, reduced only to a circle and triangle with crosses at its points.

The seals are also found in Sl.3824, a work from the 1650s, associated with ‘Dr. Rudd’. Like other ‘Rudd’ works, these are somewhat eclectic collections, preserving some texts, while altering and elaborating others, and even interpolating new pieces. The purposes of the seals (found on f. 72r and 73v) have, however, altered. The first of those shown below is now ‘to be made on a beryll glass to have knowledge of all kind of working’ and the second ‘for agues […] made in a plate of lead, coloured green’!

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The seals appear in a garbled form assigned to two of the 72 angels of the Shemhamphorash, in an 18th century manuscript entitled Le Secret des Secrets ou le véritable Grimoire de Tosgraec (Arsenal MS.2350FR), on pages 403 and 401:

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During the 19th century, a collection entitled the Clavis or Key […] of Magic of Rabbi Solomon, circulated amongst many of the magical enthusiasts of the age. This may have originally been the work of a young Fred Hockley, working from manuscripts of Ebenezer Sibly, under the guidance of occult bookseller John Denley. Not all copies are in Hockley’s hand, but exemplars are usually very fine (there are at least two published editions, one by Ben Fernee and one by Joseph Peterson). Most exemplars of this manuscript have an ornate frontispiece, evidently based on a plate from Sibly’s own Illustration of the Occult Sciences (below left, much of Sibly’s material being derived from the 1665 edition of Scot’s work), the illustration below right is from a manuscript of the ‘Sibly’ Clavis held by the National Library of Israel:

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I’m sure other instances of the two seals will crop up in future – please email me or respond to this post if you know of any!

… and if you’re considering getting them as tattoos as a consequence of this post, be aware that Dylan Carlson has beaten you to it. 😉

As an addendum, here is some music inspired by Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. First, my 2005 Pneumatic Consort recording, inspired by Scot’s necromantic spell to conjure the fairy Sibylia:


Second, Drew Mulholland’s How to Consecrate an Imaginary Circle, which was inspired by a diagram interpolated into the 1665 edition of Scot’s 16th book, reconfigured as a graphic score, as shown here as part of Drew’s Alchemical Landscape talk:

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