Commonly referred to as The Compendium of Demonology and Magic, this is actually a corruption of the book’s original Latin title: Compendium Rarissimum Totius Artis Magicae Sistematisatae per Celeberrimos Artis Hujus Magistros, a close translation being, “A Rare Summary of the Entire Magical Art by the Most Famous Masters of this Art”. Written in both German and Latin, the book’s creation is shrouded in mystery, with the unknown author thereby deliberately adding to the supposed supernatural mythology.
Though the book’s title page – is inscribed with the year 1057, this is clearly fanciful by a good few hundred years, the anonymous writer clearly aiming to lead the reader to believe this book of watercolour paintings of demonic revelry and disgust had been passed from hand-to-hand across the centuries. Regardless of this tomfoolery, it still has significant age, with most scholars dating it to around 1775.
Bearing the ominous warning “NOLI ME TANGERE” (“Do Not Touch”), another clever touch to instil a feeling of ageless dread, the strangely-hued pages are also bordered with drawings of skeletons and mystic runes, sigils and symbols, all of which paves the way nicely for the 31 outlandish paintings, which are a combination of Greek and Roman mythology and Bosch-esque excess.
However, neither the text nor the imagery are in keeping with the time it was written – many years after witchcraft was supposedly rife around Europe; just before the Declaration of Independence in America; as well as being at the brink of the Industrial Revolution. One can only imagine it was something of a vanity piece or something the author created in order to make money when sold.
The book discussed some of the demonic ranking of Hell, listing kings, dukes and subjects, whilst the symbolic work refers to the elements and, at least to some extent, astrology. The original book is owned by the Wellcome Library in London, which has digitally scanned the book to make it readily available free of charge.
Such is the strangeness of the book and its alluring appeal, there have been physical reproductions made with wood, cow-hide and mull cloth, which have sold for unsurprisingly high prices.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
Image credits: Wellcome Library