The Cambridge Book of Magic, attributed to Paul Foreman

Front cover

Paul Foreman was a sixteenth-century necromancer (ritual magician), who used the traditional prayers and liturgy of the pre-Reformation church in an effort to coerce and control angels and demons to do his bidding. Or, at the very least, he was an early owner of the manuscript that, in this edition, bears his name. The name ‘paul foreman’ appears close to front of the manuscript, apparently in the same hand as the rest of the treatise. The Cambridge Book of Magic is a collection of 91 ‘experiments’ in Latin and English, whose contents ranges from comparatively innocent tricks (making a silver coin look like a bronze one, for example) to more disturbing sorcery designed to torture one’s enemies, taking in some bizarre magical operations on the way (such as a procedure for making a magical bird by keeping flies in a jar). Although ritual invocations of angels and demons predominate, the text also includes naturalia such as the manipulation of astrological forces and the creation of monsters, and a strong strand of herbalism which recurs throughout the text. The Cambridge Book of Magic was probably written between 1536 and 1541, and certainly between 1532 and 1558, by a man learned in the liturgy and practice of the church. He was not a priest but he was probably in minor orders, and could have been an ex-monk making use of his magical learning in the local community after his ejection from a monastery in 1536 and 1539. This possibility is suggested by some of the contents of the text, as well as the fact that the manuscript originally came wrapped in a leaf from an illuminated medieval gradual, probably from a monastic context. The Cambridge Book of Magic gives a glimpse of the medieval tradition of ritual magic at the very cusp of the English Reformation, and as such it has the potential to advance our understanding of the relationship between religion and magic at this crucial period.

Reproduced by kind permission of Cambridge University Library, the original text of The Cambridge Book of Magic is printed alongside a complete translation of the Latin portions of the text, and a rendering of the English portions into contemporary English spelling. It is available to purchase here.

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