In accordance with the Guide of Revelation, the returning Christ arrives surrounded by seven candlesticks. In its creator’s prophetic dream, “his head and his hairs had been white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes had been as a flame of fireplace.” From his mouth points “a pointy sword with which to strike down the nations.” It’s a startling picture, created for symbolic functions. With out a key to what these symbols imply, the textual content stays obscure. It’s, in any case, a imaginative and prescient given to a mystic hermit exiled on an island.
Many a Revelation-inspired magical grimoire from succeeding centuries additionally stays almost incomprehensible to non-adepts. Such is the case with the “unusual 18th-century manuscript referred to as Clavis Inferni (key of hell),” as Benjamin Breen writes at Slate. “Crammed with invocations, cryptic sigils, and work of supernatural beings” — such because the illustration from Revelation above — “the guide defies interpretation — because it was meant to do.” Additionally, like Revelation, the textual content’s authorship is mysterious, and but important to our understanding of its intent.
The Key of Hell is attributed to a Cyprianus, a reputation that “most likely refers to St. Cyprian of Antioch (d. 304 CE),” Breen writes in a submit at Atlas Obscura, “a quite common apocryphal attribution for medieval magical texts, since Cyprian was reputed to have been a strong magician and demon-summoner earlier than changing to Christianity.” The usage of pseudoepigraphy — an creator assuming the title of a long-dead determine — was frequent apply all through the historical past of each theological and alchemical writing. Fairly than an try at deception, it may sign the continuation of a practice of occult information.
The title web page of the Key of Hell “appears thus far it to 1717,” writes Breen, however a Sotheby’s catalogue entry claims, “the script appears to be of the late 18th century” and dates it to 1775. On the Wellcome Library — who host the textual content on-line in its entirety — we discover this “Harry Potter-esque” origin story:
Also called the Black Guide, [the Key of Hell] is the textbook of the Black College at Wittenberg, the guide from which a witch or sorcerer will get his spells. The Black College at Wittenberg was purportedly a spot in Germany the place one went to be taught the black arts.
Written in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and “the Magical Alphabet devised by occultist Cornelius Agrippa in his Third Guide of Occult Philosophy from 1510,” notes Flashbak, the manuscript is “full of invocations to spirits and demons — together with a Hebrew invocation for summoning God.” (It additionally contains useful directions for banishing summoned spirits.) The manuscript’s full Latin title — Clavis Inferni sive magic alba et nigra approbata Metatrona — interprets to “The Key of Hell with white and black magic authorised by Metatron,” an archangel within the Talmudic and Kabbalist traditions. The usage of this title suggests the spells inside come from a better authority.
Breen, nonetheless, discovered some uncommon commentary on the guide’s attainable creator, together with the concept in Denmark that Cyprianus was “a fellow Dane so evil throughout his lifetime that when he died the satan threw him out of Hell,” writes professor of Norwegian literature Kathleen Stokker. Cyprianus was so enraged by this therapy that “he devoted himself to writing the 9 Books of Black Arts that underlie all subsequent Scandinavian black books.” One other apocryphal story identifies Cyprianus as a “ravishingly stunning” Mexican nun from 1351 (?!) who met a “gory” finish.
Whoever wrote the Key of Hell, and for no matter cause, they left behind an enchanting guide of sorcery stuffed with curious illustrations and a cryptic cosmology. See Breen’s makes an attempt to decipher a few of its key symbols right here and make your personal with the full textual content on the Wellcome Library.
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Josh Jones is a author and musician primarily based in Durham, NC. Comply with him at @jdmagness