The four books:-
William Dawson Bellhouse (Compiler and Scribe), A Complete System of Magic, hardback book 200pp, some diagrams, sigils etc. Conventional Victorian design decorated endpapers. Cloth is manufactured by a craftsman who has lectured both the Society of Bookbinders and the Society of Designer Bookbinders about Victorian bookcloth manufacture. This material is made with a traditional starch filling which is more pleasing to touch than modern cloths which are treated with plastic. As with any handmade product, the cloth may have minor irregularities. The text is a complete transcription of manuscript of a practitioner active in Liverpool, England in the late 1850s, his working magical book. He was part of a milieu who generally performed the same perilous ritual, often in the same location, to establish their communication with the spirits (including infernal beings) upon whom they would rely to perform their craft. However, the nature of their practices could vary greatly.
Someone seeking the services of the Professor (for that is what he called himself) Bellhouse could be in for an experience. On ringing the bell the front door, untouched by human hand, would immediately swing open to reveal the waiting room. There they must sit patiently, until the door of the inner sanctum is opened. They must not try to listen through the closed door or peep through the keyhole. To do so would risk being touched by the Devil! – experienced as a bolt of energy that would shake an eavesdropper to the core. For Professor Bellhouse was also a galvinist, who gave electric shocks as a medical curative. He attached wires to the door knob and a metal plate on the floor so that snoopers might receive a powerful electric shock, an utterly unfamiliar experience to most people at that time and, given the situation, they would likely attribute to a supernatural cause. The client, once summoned into the sanctum, would see strange instruments – such as a planisphere and a horologue, medical jars labelled in Latin, choice occult books and a skrying crystal set in the middle of a diagram inscribed with words of power. If seeking to have their fortune told they would be invited to touch the crystal whilst strange ritual invocations were performed by the practitioner. Unlike modern practitioner’s who look into the crystal and then report the visions to the client, Professor Bellhouse’s enpowered his clients to behold the vision in the crystal for themselves. Depending upon the purpose of the consultation they might see:- angels, or their ministers, who could be commanded; ghosts of the departed known to the client; a distant place and how a loved one fares there (useful to the people of Liverpool, a major port); past events from the client’s life and, through symbols that the Professor could interpret, their future. Bellhouse developed his own system, by which the visions where summoned through the astrological house suitable to the question using particular names of powers attributed to each house. Different charts are given for men and women in which the names of power are juxtaposed across the horizon, indicating a system of sexual polarity.
But a dark shadow falls across the practice of Professor Bellhouse. He and his associates were the subject of prolonged study by an investigative journalist. Bellhouse was accused of taking advantage of women who came to him for readings so the question arises whether he was practising an idiosyncratic tantric xkrying technique or abuse, or both. All available information is provided so that the reader can decide for him or herself. The journalist rants against the sexual immorality of the seers generally, opening a window upon a curious occult sub-culture in Victorian England that presages the cultural shifts of the 20th Century.
A Complete System of Magic provide the magical procedures that clients might seek from a Cunning Man. These include charms for healing with spells to staunch bleeding and stop cramp and heal burns. There are charms for love, to cause an errant son or daughter to return and to protect a building from evil. Clearly fear of malefic witchcraft was an issue as there are various counter measures including two procedures for using witch bottles. Theft and crime were problems and there is an elaborate procedure for bringing miscreants to light. The involves the creation of wax images. Whilst clearly its own text it does relate to the procedure disclosed by Reginald Scot but Bellhouse gives the “certeine peculiar characters” referred to by Scot, but not given, and conjurations, which Scot deliberately omits. The words of power to be inscribed upon the waxen images that Bellhouse gives are quite different from Scot suggesting that this was, very much, a living, evolving tradition. There is a section on the magical properties of naturally shed snakeskin, another on the occult properties of vervain. There are illustrated instructions for the preparation of planetary talismans.
Bellhouse incorporates part of Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy into A Complete Magical System and as this transcript is complete this is included, though it presents the text and illustrations as given in the first English edition of 1655 rather than Bellhouse’s rather error laden copy.
A Complete System of Magic concludes with Bellhouse’s multiple indexes of the material, signalling which parts he utilised most and then some appendices:- The Magician’s Blessing; Form of a Spell; Manner of Baptising in the Catholic Church, Table of Hebrew Letters; Signification of the [Astrological] Houses; Manner of Drawing Geomantic Figures; How to Compose an Oration to the Angel whose assistance you want; Platinumed Plate for Gavanic Operations.
Daniel Harms, William Dawson Bellhouse, Galvinist, Cunning Man, Scoundrel, hardback book 29pp illustrations. Conventional printed decorated endpapers. This is a biography of the man and presents all that is known about him with considerable information concerning his practice of medical galvanism with the illustrations used by him in a leaflet he issued. The charges levelled against him are discussed. Excellent account of his sometimes chequered career.
Daniel Harms, Witch Bottles, Steel & Glass, hardback book 52pp some illustrations. Conventional printed decorated endpapers. Witch bottles, being one of the most enduring artefacts of folk magical practice, are occasionally discovered and their contents investigated. The famous Essex Cunning Man known as Cunning Murrell famously used metal bottles in a manner akin to Bellhouse. Murrell’s magic book was destroyed after his death. It is remarkable then to find the text of a 19th Century practitioner giving the procedures for their creation and use. This work explores possible origins of the practice, their use in both the Old and New World and discusses the nature of the practice.
Daniel Harms, Wax Images, “Voodoo Dolls”, Figurines, Mannikins & Poppets, hardback book 60pp some illustrations. Conventional printed decorated endpapers. This creation of beings resonates with Jewish traditions regarding the Golem which emphasise the words and sigils that must be inscribed upon specific parts of the being’s form. This makes Bellhouse’s text particularly interesting. It is striking to find a 19th Century practitioner’s magical book which has developed and expanded centuries old traditions. This work places Bellhouse’s text in context by exploring the magical and religious use of wax figurines in the Ancient World, medieval and early modern image magic in Western Europe and their continued use into 18th century and modern times.
Liverpool Mercury, hardback folder with stiff card pocket. Conventional printed decorated pastedowns:-
Anon. (Hugh Shimmin), Liverpool Mercury, Liverpool Life Nos. II – XIII, This series of twelve articles published in 1857 are presented, in emulation of their original appearance, as cuttings upon both sides of a folded sheet 76cm x 64cm. The deeply hostile journalist provides an eye-opening view of the occult in mid-19th Century Liverpool. His antipathy to seers like Bellhouse is extreme. He regards them as a threat to Victorian morality. He says the work hand in hand with the sex industry, very prominent in Liverpool at that time. He notes that many of them, like Bellhouse, were also herbalists and supplied aborticants to sex workers and recruited vulnerable girls. He also notes that horny women would seek them out for recreational sex as they thought their trade might insure them from any consequences, These articles describe the skrying techniques, the herbal remedies, the talismans, Bible and key divination, fairy magic, use of psalms, astrology, card reading etc. The journalist also discusses Liverpool mesmerists and spiritualist mediums well aware of the international movements. The latter’s exploration of faery realms is curious. Shimmin is slightly more sympathetic to a lunatic seer who does not trade but has visions reminiscent of William Blake’s in which he is the connection between heaven and earth for the benefit of humanity. Highly informative concerning the milieu in which Bellhouse worked.
Facsimile of Original Manuscript Two leaflets 64pp leaflet & 32pp leaflet, ribbon binding. (Not including the section copied directly from Agrippa, Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy – but this is included in the transcript) The facsimile is important as if provides signals as to whether sigils have been copied or created, different hands in compiling the manuscript, which pages were most used etc.
There is a secret chamber in the slipcase!
The biblionaut is invited to discover the way into the chamber. Once you know the way it can be opened easily and quickly. But unless you know the procedure it can prove totally inaccessible. In experiments most people are unable to find their way in. There are full instructions with diagrams, but the seal upon the limitation sheet has to be broken in order to view them.
Inside the felt lined secret chamber are some of the key articles required to practice the Complete System of Magic:-
There are three “Bonds for the Crystal”, one for men, one for women and one for both. These relate to the astrological houses and give the names of power attributed to each house. These can be unfolded and the crystal placed in the centre for a reading. They are printed upon laid, mould made paper.
Glass Skrying Ball, as used by the Liverpool seers so modestly sized compared to modern large balls. They obtained their skrying glasses from the workers at St. Helen’s glass works, about 12 miles from Liverpool (still a centre for the British glass industry). They were “end of day pieces” or “friggers” where the workers might use up the last of the molten glass for personal projects. The intermediary was the seer of St. Helens who many trusted to properly consecrate the glasses. He specialised in fairy magic. The round shape is reminiscent of the Earth so the crystal can be perceived as a microcosm of the world.
Glass Skrying Egg, the ovoid or egg shape was the most common form of skrying in Liver pool at that time. Whilst the use of egg shaped skrying glasses is noted in some old books, their existence is now largely forgotten. The egg is a symbol of fertility and suggests the mystery of new life emerging from apparently inanimate matter. The beings that appear in the crystal might be considered as new life forms, manifestations of life force formulated into beings through the egg shape of the crystal.
Glass Skrying Cylinder, was used with a plate engraved with cabalistic figures. It has been speculated that the optical properties of a glass cylinder made that shape particularly suitable for a skrying glass. And it has also been suggested that unscrupulous seers may have surreptitiously slipped images under the cylinder to trick a client into believing they had received a vision.
Anon, Further Notes Regarding the Practice of Professor Bellhouse & the Liverpool Seers including their Ritual of Initiation, 32pp small format leaflet, ribbon bound the ties being left long as they facilitate removal of items from secret chamber. This gives the ritual of initiation utilised by the seers and describes the location where it was performed. It discusses Bellhouse’s magical technique, its embrace of sexual polarity and it’s relationship to eroto-comotose lucidity, a sex magical technique enunciated by Crowley (drawing upon the work of Pascal Beverly Randolph). The relationship between sex and skrying is discussed and the accusations against Bellhouse are examined in this context and the reader is provided with all available information to make his or her own judgement,
Metal Ring, upon which the ball and egg shaped glass can be set.