Following in a Cunning-Man’s Footsteps

Over the last ten or eleven years I have been privileged to look at dozens of manuscripts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance in my research into the grimoires.  The results of this have been published in numerous books making these source texts available to the wider public (e.g. The Book of Gold, The Book of Treasure Spirits, A Collection of Magical Secrets, The Veritable Key of Solomon and The Goetia of Dr Rudd).  Amongst all these manuscripts, one occasionally jumped out and grabbed my attention as being particularly significant.  A particularly noteworthy example of this is the manuscript of a 17th century London Cunning-man’s book of practice, which I have edited and discussed in my latest book The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet.

This text exemplifies the cunning art, drawing together material from numerous earlier sources into an eclectic mix which includes conjurations of angels, demons, fairies and the dead, as well as a diverse range of charms.  The charms include earlier medical charms written by famous surgeons from the fourteenth and fifteenth century, herbal remedies, wax images, and charms using the Psalms, many of which are also seen in The Book of Gold.  There is a significant emphasis on the wand as the primary tool of the cunning-man in this work, including a wand consecration and several conjurations and charms.

The Book of the 7 Images of the Days, which forms part of The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, has an interesting use of the wand as part of a love charm, where the names of the man and woman are written in the heart of the image used, with the instruction to hang the Image before the Stars And smite it with a twig or wand of Olive Tree And Conjure the Image”.[1]  The use of an olive twig or wand is interesting, as it is not a native British plant and would have required some effort to gain.  However Gauntlet includes material from numerous sources, including the Arbatel, the Heptameron, the Key of Solomon, the Book of Gold, Folger Vb.26, Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, William Bacon and John Dee, as well as much material which seems to be unique, so this is not surprising.

As we know, cunning-folk, both men and women, provided a wide range of magical services to anyone who paid them.  Such services included a wide range of possibilities including healing people and farm animals, recovering lost or stolen goods, protection from witches, curses and evil spirits; gaining love, luck when gambling, and locating hidden treasure.

The book has a whole section on conjuring three angels to perform healing, for protection against witchcraft and other diverse tasks, as well as conjurations to gain a familiar spirit.  There are also numerous simple charms using herbs and apples for particular results like love and control, such as:

To make peace betwixt Enemies Go between men that are at debate having vervain about thee and say Ratifaxat and thou shalt make peace betwixt them.

The incredible spectrum of material in this work, drawing on whatever worked from incense recipes to magic circles, amulets to complex conjurations, demonstrates the pragmatic and eclectic work of the cunning-man and woman, who may perhaps be regarded as the true forefathers and mothers of the modern western esoteric revival.



[1] The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, Rankine, 2011:282.

Angelic Water anyone?

The image of the magician performing complex rituals using numerous tools is a popular one, but many people are less familiar with the wide range of ‘high magic’ rites using only the most simple and basic items, such as a glass off water.

The simple glass of water also has a long history of use as a gateway to the realms of other beings like angels and demons.  Water – the stuff of life, and in many cultures a liminal space, be it at springs, wells, rivers, lakes, etc.  During my research into the grimoires I have found examples for both angels and demons being conjured into a glass of water.  The most recent of these I found when I was working on The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, and I include it below as an example of these simple ‘high magic’ rites:


How to Call the Angels into A Glass of Water

You must have a urinal[1] Or a Crystal Beer or wine Glass very clean washed Then filled iii [3] quarters full of Spring water Then cover it with a paper wherein must be drawn these lines and characters as you see in the figure following. Then having said your prayers devoutly to God for good success in what you undertake. If it be a urinal hold it betwixt your Hands so that your fingers hinder not the light. If it be a Glass you may let it stand on his foot. Then call as followeth. ~

+ Babell + Gabriel + Rochell + Sara + Isaac + Joseph + and + Jacob + I charge you by these holy names of God + Elo + Elo + Goby + Goby + Emanuell + Emanuell + Tetragrammaton + Tetragrammaton + As you shall answer before Jesus Christ at the great and dreadful day of Judgement for to show me all that I shall ask or demand faithfully and truly within this Glass without any delusion or dissimulation I charge you and command you and bind you that you come into this Glass & bring all that do belong unto you for to show me anything that I shall ask or desire that I may plainly behold it with my mortal Eyes.[2]


[1] In this context a bottle.

[2] A similar technique is found in Sloane MS 3824, a contemporary MS. See The Book of Treasure Spirits, Rankine, 2009:156.


Who was Arthur Gauntlet?

The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet is a fascinating example of a Cunning-man’s book of practice, but who was Arthur Gauntlet? The only known published literary reference to Arthur Gauntlet was by the famous astrologer William Lilly (1602-1681) in his autobiography, written around 1668.[1] The quote from Lilly provides some significant peripheral information which can help us create at least a sketchy picture of Arthur Gauntlet.

“I was very familiar with one Sarah Skelhorn, who had been Speculatrix unto one Arthur Gauntlet about Gray’s Inn Lane,[2] a very lewd fellow, professing physick. This Sarah had a perfect sight, and indeed the best eyes for that purpose I ever yet did see. Gauntlet’s books, after he was dead, were sold, after I had perused them, to my scholar Humphreys: there were rare notions in them. This Sarah lived a long time, even until her death, with one Mrs. Stockman in the Isle of Purbeck, and died about fifteen years since.”[3]

It seems curious that Lilly should describe Sarah Skelhorn (called Sarah Shelborne in the introduction) so positively as such a good seer, and yet be negative about Arthur Gauntlet.  Lilly’s single reference to him as a ‘lewd fellow’ stands out and labels Gauntlet without allowing any opportunity for defence of his character or further consideration. However it is clear from Lilly’s writings that he was quick to denigrate anybody who he felt was not a respectable practitioner of astrology or the magical arts by his standards. I suggest that the fact that Arthur Gauntlet should have such a good speculatrix or seer combined with the heavily angelic and moral nature of Gauntlet’s manuscript may mitigate Lilly’s unqualified negative remark about his character.

We can deduce something more about Arthur Gauntlet through another mention of his name, in MS Laud Misc 19.  This manuscript contains an early ownership inscription of Arthur Gauntlet, and was in William Laud’s possession in 1636.  This manuscript includes a “Treatise, based on and including extracts from Hilton‘s Scale, describing the way of meditation and the mystical experience”.[4]

Considering the nature of Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection offers some revealing insights.  Hilton (c.1343-1396) discusses such topics as the form of spiritual visions and how to induce contemplation through meditation, prayer and Scripture.  The Scale of Perfection was written as an instructional guide for women who had taken vows or committed to a religious life, and as such may have been of interest to, for example, a female skryer such as Sarah Skelhorn.

If we make the tentative assumption that MS Laud Misc 19 passed directly from Arthur Gauntlet’s hands, being sold on after his death, and that it went directly into William Laud’s possession from Gauntlet, then it suggests a date of death around 1636.  That a book containing spiritual material belonging to Arthur Gauntlet should end up in the hands of William Laud (1573-1645) is very interesting.  William Laud was the Bishop of London from 1628-33, and it may be possible that he and Arthur Gauntlet met or even knew each other.  This would provide a possible explanation for why Laud should end up with one of Gauntlet’s books, particularly considering the religious nature of its contents.

There are some clues in the text which suggest that Arthur Gauntlet was a very capable practitioner, who did not just rely on material from earlier sources, or had access to someone else who was.  The magic circles found in this work have some very interesting features which are not seen in other grimoires, and which would seem to be the result of experience being applied.  Thus we see the circles having a larger and more spacious diameter of fourteen foot, not the standard nine foot found in many grimoires drawing on the Heptameron.

It is also significant that in light of his conjurations being largely of angels; Gauntlet uses a second smaller circle for the crystal to be positioned in, and for angelic manifestation.  The shape of this is in contrast to the constraining triangle used with demons found in the Goetia, or the pentagram used with faeries found in Sloane MS 3824.  However a circle would make sense for angels as a perfect shape representing the divine and not seeking to dominate them as one would need to do for demons.

Another interesting feature of this manuscript is that the one magical tool emphasised is the wand.  There is a consecration of a wand given, as well as charms which require the use of a wand.  Considering the emphasis on the sword in many grimoires, this suggests a more practical and simplified approach with a more transportable and inconspicuous tool.

[1] “Wrote by himself in the 66th year of his Age”, The Life of William Lilly, Davies:1774:1.
[2] This street is now called Gray’s Inn Road.
[3] The Life of William Lilly, Davies, 1774:149.
[4] The Index of Middle English Prose Handlist XVI, Ogilvie-Thomson, 2000:1.

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The Cosmic Shekinah – Mother of Angels

In my excitement and pleasure at the launch of my new book with Sorita d’Este, The Cosmic Shekinah, I decided to post some snippets to provide a flavour of the diverse material on the Shekinah we have woven together in this work. The first of these looks at the connection between the Shekinah and angels:

Considering the Kabbalistic model of creation as the result of the union of God and the Shekinah, the title of the Mother of Angels becomes entirely appropriate. The angels are the divine messengers (from angelos, ‘messenger’, Greek), and an interesting reference in The Thunder, Perfect Mind emphasises the association between the Wisdom Goddess (as Sophia in this instance) and angels, when she says: “of the angels, who have been sent at my word.”[1] Angels are also described in one of the Merkavah texts as, “Messengers of the Power and Awakeners of the Shekinah”[2]

The Zohar makes reference to the angels being born from the Shekinah, saying, “Its sparks are sparks of fire. Who are the sparks? Those gems and pearls born from that fire.”[3] It is also worth noting that the Shekinah is described as a gem and a pearl in Kabbalistic texts, demonstrating the continuity of association here.

A range of texts mention the connection between the Shekinah and angels, such as the first-third century CE Gedulath Mosheh (The Revelation of Moses), which describes:

“50 myriads of angels stand before him; they are of fire and water, and their faces are directed towards the Shekinah above; and all sing hymns”[4]

Enoch describes his own ascension to heaven in the Book of 3 Enoch, saying that:

“When the Holy One, blessed be He, took me away from the generation of the Flood, he lifted me on the wings of the wind of Shekinah to the highest heaven and brought me into the great palaces of the Arabot Raqia on high, where are the glorious Throne of Shekinah, the Merkavah.”[5]

[1] The Thunder, Perfect Mind, C3rd-C4th CE, Nag Hammadi Texts, trans. George W. MacRae.
[2] Hekhalot Rabbati, VII.154, C3rd-C7th CE.
[3] Zohar 2:114a, C13th CE.
[4] The Revelation of Moses, 9, C1st-C3rd CE, trans. M. Gaster.
[5] 3 Enoch 7:1, C2nd-C6th CE.