09 March 2009

A. E. Waite / Divination / Bibliomancy


Found in A.E. Waite's 'Occult Sciences' (1891) between Belomancy and Capnomancy (divination by smoke) this method of detecting witches and sorcerers and also using a Bible for prediction etc., Belomancy, by the way, is divination by arrows...
"Occasionally the forms of divination exceeded the bounds of superstition, and passed into the region of frantic madness. There was a short way the sorcerers which was probably the most potent discoverer of witchcraft which any ingenuity could devise. A large Bible was deposited on one side of a pair of weighing scales. The person suspected of magical practices was set on the opposite side. If he outweighed the Bible he was innocent; in the other case, he was held guilty. In the days of this mystical weighing and measuring, the scales may be truly said to have fallen from the eyes of a bewizarded generation, and to have revealed " sorcery and enchantment everywhere."

Bibliomancy, however, included a more harmless practice, and one of an exceedingly simple character. This was the opening of the Bible with a golden pin, and drawing an omen from the first passage which presented itself. Books like the Scriptures, the "Following of Christ," and similar works, abound in suggestive and pertinent passages which all men may apply to temporal affairs, but declares that he had recourse to it in all cases of spiritual difficulty. The appeal to chance is, however, essentially superstitious.
By the way A. E. Waite is a useful writer to find books by but not in the same league at all as the Great Beast. His most expensive work is likely to be his first 'An Ode to Astronomy and Other Poems (100 copies, thought to be 1877) or his second 'A Lyric to the Fairyland.' R B Russell values these at £3000 and £2000 respectively, possibly taking the price from the air. His rarest is undoubtedly 'The House of Hidden Light' written with Arthur Machen and published in 1904 in 3 copies. Russell has this at £1500. The 2 authors are pictured below, Machen on the left (uncharacteristically.)

Waite's work was mainly on the occult and mystical (he was Grand Master of the Golden Dawn in 1903) and, although one sees some of these books at giddy prices (£1000+) they are seldom worth it and he is hard to sell at ambitious prices. Signed copies are often seen marked up as if he was Yeats or the Beast but are not especially uncommon and do not double the price. One of his works on the web 'The History of Magic (1913, translated from Eliphas Levi) turns out be Aleister Crowley's copy, signed by him and with his extensive (and scornful) annotations throughout. Crowley and Waite had an acrimonious falling out, a bit in the Naipaul /Theroux or Beaton / Waugh mode + he claimed to be the reincarnation of Eliphas Levi, and many of his own writings were inspired by the French occult author and Mage (pic left). Priced at the palindromic and "beasty" price of $11666.11. Toppish in price but not completely unthinkable, although a bit worn and shaken with the odour of cigarette smoke (possibly the strong shag that Crowley liked) it had also belonged to Peter Warlock the composer with his ownership signature dated 1916. Crowley punters are unlikely to be put off by the odour of baccy but it could be a good bargaining point. A distinguished and important association deftly catalogued by the mighty Powell's of Portland.

Never been to Powells --I imagine it is like the Strand Bookshop in New York but on a gargantuan scale. I would like to go there. Martin Stone, uberscout and lover of fine books, was unimpressed by the condition of the good stuff there when he passed through with the good Baxter on their legendary road trip. He also did not dig their slightly anti dealer vibe. You sometimes get this in bookshops- they cannot appreciate that dealers are often among their best customers. All I know is when I have ordered from them they pack the books lightly-- belonging to the majority school who believe you merely have to put a book in a bag to send it; bubble, packaging and protection not needed (allright, some dealers go too far the other way with 7 layers of hurricane proof wrapping.) Apart from all that they are one of the world's top shops, with more books than the Bodleian, the tower of Babel and the library of Babylon.
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