Some time ago, I was given a beautiful signed copy of Avalonia’s The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet: a 17th Century London Cunning-man’s Book of Charms, Conjurations and Prayers, edited by David Rankine. With several writing projects and public events to get through this year, it has taken me some time to finish the book and gather my notes for a proper review. Yet, I feel this book is important enough for me to return to it and share what I have found.
So, why do I feel this book is so important? Even better, you may be asking, why should you be interested in the obscure personal grimoire of some guy whose name you’ve never heard before? The answer to both questions is the same, and it comes in two parts. First, I will discuss who Arthur Gauntlet was and then I will discuss the particular treasure his grimoire contains.
Many of you may know that I have described Solomonic magick as a form of “urban shamanism.” Some have taken exception to my use of the term “shamanism” to describe a system of occultism that arose among city-dwelling Christians in the Medieval and Renaissance eras. Most readers, on the other hand, have understood that my use of the term was based on a strict definition of “shamanism” as a social role. In this sense, a shaman is a person who operates outside of Church or Temple authority, and serves his or her community as a liaison between common folk and the realm of spirits. They act as healers and exorcists, and perform spells for day-to-day needs: such as love, money, jobs, friendship, favor with authority figures, finding lost items, divination of the future, etc.
Based on that definition, I have contended that Solomonic mages have historically served the functions of the shaman for their communities. While modern wizards have a tendency to lock themselves away in private and work magick for their own needs, the stereotypical wizard of the past offered his services – usually for a fee – to the laypersons of his town or village. (Much as we see with local cunning men and women and folk magicians even today.)
The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet is a wonderful illustration of this very paradigm. Arthur Gauntlet was a physician of the early seventeenth century, living in a time when medicine still included the use of astrology, magickal talismans and images, and incantations alongside the mundane applications of herbal remedies and tinctures. He moved in circles we would today consider occult – knowing such men as William Lilly, William Laud and possibly even Alias Ashmole (who ended up in possession of Gauntlet’s grimoire and claimed to recognize the man’s handwriting). He also employed a skryer named Sarah Skelhorn, who worked with him until 1636 – the possible time of his death.
Without a doubt, Arthur Gauntlet offered his services – both as a healer and a magician – to his community. And what we have in his grimoire is a practicing wizard’s working notebook – not merely a manuscript intended for mass publication as we find in many of the more common grimoires (i.e. the Key of Solomon the King or the Lemegeton). Instead, The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet falls in the category of a true receipt book – a record of the spells and charms and occult wisdom of a Solomonic mage and healer actively plying his trade.
We can easily see the practical nature of this grimoire by looking at the included material along with the order in which it is recorded:
- On the very first pages we find general instructions for all magick as taught by Ptolemy and Cyprian.
- Following these are the preliminary prayers to God and Psalms for defense and success in all matters, as well as conjurations against all evil spirits, that Dr. Gauntlet was likely to have used at the start of any magickal or healing operation. These include a prayer “for thy Genius” – showing that Dr. Gauntlet understood the importance of invoking his Patron or Guardian Angel at the start of any magickal work.
- Next, we find several charms that, I wager, were used by Dr. Gauntlet somewhat early in his career. (Later sections of the grimoire will contain a larger number and greater variety of such charms.) In this section, we find charms for protection, making spent money return and one for healing a person sick with “worms in his body.”
- Following these are the “49 Aphorisms” copied entirely from the Arbatel of Magic. This is the first of many inclusions from more popular grimoires, showing that Dr. Gauntlet was always on the look out for occult manuscripts to further his own understanding of the magickal arts.
- Next we find a rather lengthy section dedicated to the evocation of angels into a shewstone – several examples of which include the use of a child skryer. (This was a common feature of Solomonic magick, though we know that Gauntlet employed an adult woman for this purpose.) After the instructions given for summoning the angels, several sets of instructions are given for employing the angels for various purposes: discovering theft, finding hidden treasure, curing sickness, obtaining prophecy, returning lost cattle, returning runaway servants and children, and defense against witchcraft.
This section continues with alternate methods of summoning angels for yet further purposes – such as protection, theft, love and pleasures of the flesh.
- Next we find another inclusion from a popular grimoire: this time from the Heptameron. Included are the instructions for creating a magickal circle, exorcism of the fire, information about the garment and pentacle (including several versions of such a pentacle), and the full evocation ceremony – complete with the “considerations” and conjurations for the angels and spirits of every day of the week.
- Following all of this is a lengthy section of text drawn from the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy – teaching general occult philosophy, characters and forms of spirits, creation of sigils and talismans, books of spirits, evocation, obtaining oracles, etc.
- Then we find several sets of instructions for binding spirits to crystals, and the skrying of the same.
- Next are several experiments of necromancy or summoning the spirits of the dead. The most lengthy of these operations will be of much interest to any of you have have read Jake Stratton-Kent’s Geosophia, because it involves conjuring the spirit of a recently deceased person to go and fetch a fairy named “Sibilia” – who is apparently one of the Sybils (Oracles) of Greek history and myth.
- This is followed, surprisingly, with an elaborate ceremony for summoning “Sathan” (aka Satan) for the purpose of divination upon any subject whatsoever. This is apparently based on the philosophy that Satan is the “god of this world” and should therefore know everything that happens within it. This section ends with the spirit-curses found in many Solomonic texts for entities that are disobedient.
- The following section includes instructions for making and consecrating a magickal wand – the only magickal tool that Dr. Gauntlet seems to have used in his work. (No swords or knives are mentioned.)
- Then we find a section of recipes for incenses appropriate to each planet and zodiac sign. An interesting point here is the fact that all of the planetary perfumes are to be made into “pills” – or small rolled balls. These are created by mixing the powdered plant materials with blood – and in each case the blood is taken from an animal sacred to the planet itself. Such as bat blood for Saturn, that of a white rooster for Sol, that of a goose for Luna, etc.
- The next section might be thought of as a companion to the Sibilia conjuration. This time, the conjuration is for a spirit named “Oberion” – who is obviously the King of Fairies Oberon. It is interesting to note that this ritual also includes an invocation of the “Kaberion”, who are likely the Kabiri of ancient Greek mythos.
- Next we find a section dedicated to various Psalmic charms that Dr. Gauntlet likely used and prescribed in his practice. These are similar to those found in Use of the Psalms or the Book of Gold. They include charms for healing weakness (exhaustion? consumption? fatigue?), protection from demons, easing colic in infants, gaining honors, eloquence, healing sickness and injury, aiding childbirth, overcoming accusations, discovering theft, exorcising demons, protection of children, stopping bleeding, cramps, curing epilepsy, etc., etc.
This same section continues with more charms that do not depend on Psalms, but instead upon characters, herbs, magickal images and the like. Their purposes are more of the same we have seen – such as the curing of several specific injuries and diseases. Among these are seven “images” (actually more like talismans) attributed to the seven days of the week – and therefore the seven planets – fashioned from different metals and alloys. Each is attributed to a particular effect – such as binding tongues, creating discord or love between couples, etc.
This final section of charms is very lengthy - apparently representing bits of useful magickal lore Dr. Gauntlet acquired along the course of his career. I suspect he would have gone right on expanding this last section indefinitely throughout his lifetime.
Overall, we can see clearly in the above a notebook that would have been in use by an active practitioner of the art – specifically one offering his services to others in his community. The arrangement of the text even gives us a clue into how Dr. Gauntlet went about his ritual process – starting with his preliminary prayers and invocations and the methods by which he (and his skryer) made contact with angelic entities. Then follow the various charms and lore he picked up in his own spiritual quest and professional career. Furthermore, we see in the collected philosophy and lore the progression of Gauntlet’s own understanding of occult philosophy – as he would (certainly after much searching) lay his hands on one grimoire after another and hand-copy the portions of them he felt were most important.
I must also point out that the practical nature of this notebook gives us a rare glimpse into the “nuts and bolts” of Solomonic magickal practice. Where the more popular “mass circulation” grimoires often give us only a broad overview of the methods employed, more often than not mixed with a large amount of mythos and fantasy, Dr. Gauntlet’s grimoire is more concerned with specific how-to’s of the practice.
Some of the best examples of this latter dynamic is found in the instructions for skrying – which are absolutely some of the best I have ever seen in print. While this text and many others give us the rituals to use in skrying angels and spirits, only this one among the classical texts gives step-by-step instructions on how to divine specific information from the entities thus evoked.
The first example is found on p. 117, “How you shall make your demands to the Three Angels And first for a Friend.” It concerns how to question three summoned Angels to tell you exactly where a friend of yours is at the time of the working. (Apparently, Gauntlet’s skryer Sarah used this method often enough to continue using it after his death. The introduction describes Sarah later working for a client who would ask her to divine whether or not her – the client’s – mother was at home before she would commit to taking a trip to visit her. Remember this was the day before the phone, or even the telegraph or mail service. It would appear that Sarah was accurate enough in this divination to remain in the employ of the same client for many years.)
In the instructions given on p. 117, we learn that one did not simply ask the angels “where is my friend so-and-so right now?” Instead, a specific process was undertaken: First one asks the angels to show a vision of the friend in whatsoever place he or she may be. The vision will be granted, but no place will be named. The skryer must then ask how far away this place is – “is it five miles away? six miles? seven? eight? ten? twenty?” etc – until an exact number is settled upon. Then the skryer asks which direction the location lies from the current location – asking “is it north from here? south? east? west?” Then the skryer must ask, “Is it such-and-such a place?” The place must be specifically named by the skryer, and possible locations are to be named until the angels answer in the affirmative.
On p. 118, “How you shall make your demands for Theft to the Three Angels” we are told to use the exact same process. First one asks to see the thief – so that a description of the person can be recorded. Then, to find the present location of the thief, one goes through the same sort of questioning one used to locate a friend. First how many miles off he is – naming different distances until one is affirmed. Then which direction, then naming specific locations until one is confirmed as the hideout of the thief.
Also on p. 118 we find “For Treasure hidden”, which uses a similar but more restricted process. One first determines the land wherein one believes treasure is buried. Then the process of elimination is followed as above – only using feet rather than miles.
On p. 119 we learn how this kind of divination is done “For Sickness.” Once the angels have been summoned, the symptoms of the sickness are explained to the entities. Then one asks if the patient is going to live or die. If it is divined that he will die, one then asks how long that will be in coming by naming different lengths of time. If it is divined that the patient will recover, one must then ask how that recovery will take place. Will it be accomplished naturally, or will the doctor need to apply medicines? If it is to be by medicine, then one must determine the disease by naming known maladies until the angels affirm the one afflicting the patient. Then remedies and treatments are to be named until the angels confirm the one(s) that should be applied. Then one asks how long the recovery will take – once again by naming different lengths of time.
What a perfect illustration of how divination is properly done! One can imagine using this technique with a divinatory device such as a pendulum, geomantic squilling, a toss of coins or any other method that can provide a “yes or no” answer to any question. At no point are the angels expected to simply state outright the location of the person or the nature and cure of the disease - but these must be divined one bit at a time until the answer is finally settled upon via a process of elimination.
As you can see, there are many treasures to be found in the Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet. I agree with the editor when he suggests, in the introduction, that this book shows the marks of a person who actually used this material in the real world. That is what makes this book so important. The nuts-and-bolts nature of the instructions give us a rare insight into how this kind of magick was really done – much akin to the few precious eyewitness accounts of such rituals that have been preserved in various journals.
But even those eyewitness accounts are second-hand at best – descriptions of what a person saw and thought they were seeing that gives us little insight into the motivations and skills of the wizard himself. (Imagine, for example, trying to describe to another what you saw a surgeon do during an operation. It would hardly amount to an instruction manual for surgery.) Meanwhile, The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet gives us a real view into Solomonic practice much akin to the eyewitness accounts, while also giving us the step-by-step instruction to do it ourselves.
Yet again – not long after their publications of The Veritable Key of Solomon, A Treatise of Mixed Cabala and The Book of Gold – Avalonia and David Rankine have provided us with another leap forward in our modern understanding of classical Solomonic occultism. Therefore I must urge you to pick up The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet – whether you are a student of cultural history or an active practitioner, you will discover treasures buried within the pages of this obscure physician’s personal grimoire.