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The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet

Published by Avalonia (www.avaloniabooks.co.uk) and edited by David Rankine, this is an exceptionally interesting and well put-together book, taking a close look at 17th century cunning man Arthur Gauntlet and his repertoire of charms, herbal remedies, angelic conjurations and prayers. But Rankine’s work also brings out another side of this particular kind of practice: as well as focusing on the actual components of the grimoire itself, he explores the connections between individuals in Gauntlet’s London, and the subsequent history of the grimoire itself and the hands through which it passed.

Gauntlet had an eclectic approach to magic, including charms derived from the Psalms, material from other texts such as the Key of Solomon, conjurations not only of spirits but also of fairies (‘Oberion’ makes an appearance), and the little-known Olympic spirits. Many of his charms are related to the usual range of subjects desired by folk who consult magical practitioners – charms for love, health, and finding treasure, plus prophecy and skrying. There’s even a charm involving a turnip, which in my mind conjures the shade of Baldrick, but the overall effect of reading through Gauntlet’s preoccupations gives the impression of a lively and enquiring mind, with a spirit of proto-empirical investigation. Gauntlet moves towards science, based on observation, then shies away from it again: the charm to attract familiar spirits involves the blood of a lapwing turning to worms (presumably maggots, if this is observational and not metaphorical), then back to a lapwing again. Half observation and half wild speculation – we might see this as an analogy for the two-steps-forward, one-step-back progress of scientific enquiry in this particular age.

It is this eclecticism of Gauntlet’s work – veering from folk magic to angelic conjuration and with much in between – that also serves as analogy to the social context in which Gauntlet was writing and working, and into which his grimoire subsequently passed. The connections between astrologers, playwrights, churchmen, politicians and cunning men and women, are fascinating in themselves: Gauntlet’s book was owned by Elias Ashmole (founder of the Ashmolean), a Lord Chancellor (Baron Somers), cunning-woman Ann Savadge, and astrologer John Humphreys, among others. The role played by women in the history of this grimoire is itself an interesting one: Gauntlet’s principal skryer was a woman named Sarah Skelhorn, and I would suggest that a serious study of the part played by women in the range of magical practice at this time would merit further consideration. Rankine’s work raises a number of questions which it would be well worth pursuing.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2012 11:47 pm (UTC)
I think Owen Davies looks at some of the female practitioners in his book on Cunning People, though the records, of course, are not great. Gauntlet sounds like a fascinating character.
I have to say that Baldrick is one of those beings I wouldn't be too worried by if I conjured.
Jan. 13th, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. Thanks for talking about it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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