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The Key of Hell: An 18th Century Sorcery Handbook aka Clavis Inferni

via The Appendix

Cyprianus was, by all accounts, a shady character. In her book Remedies and Rituals: Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land, Kathleen Stokker writes that medieval Scandinavians spun tales of a Dane named Cyprianus who was so evil that Satan cast him out of hell: “This act so enraged Cyprianus that he dedicated himself to writing the nine Books of the Black Arts that underlie all subsequent Scandinavian black books.”

Bizarrely, another tradition maintained that the true Cyprianus was “a ravishingly beautiful, irrestistibly seductive, prodigiously knowledgeable, pious Mexican nun.” And yet another tradition traces the name back to St. Cyprian of Antioch, a powerful Greek wizard who was famed as a demon-summoner before converting to Christianity. Despite Cyprian’s saintly later life, medieval authors appear to have been more interested in the demon part—here’s a 15th century French paintingof Cyprian striking up a bargain with two devilish characters, for instance.

What we know for sure is that “Cyprian” became a common pseudonym for people at the edges of society who were trying to do real black magic. And thus we find “Pseudo-Cyprianus” listed as the author of this jaw-dropping book of magical spells from the late 18th century, which the Wellcome Trust has just made public domain. The title is Clavis Inferni (The Key of Hell) and the images are magnificent and thrillingly mysterious:

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“Maymon – a black bird – as King of the South.” Cyprianus, Clavis Inferni, late 18th century.

NW_corner“Uricus – a red-crowned and winged serpent – as King of the East.” Cyprianus, Clavis Inferni, late 18th century.

SE_corner“Egyn – a black bear-like animal with a short tail – as King of the North.” Cyprianus,Clavis Inferni, late 18th century.Wellcome Images

SW_corner“Paymon – a black cat-like animal with horns, long whiskers and tail – as King of the West.” Cyprianus, Clavis Inferni, late 18th century.

L0036628 Dragon devouring a lizard, from Cyprianus, 18th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Ink and watercolour showing a red-winged dragon wearing a gold crown and devouring a lizard. Between the two figures is a snake entwined around a cross with a skull and crossbones at its base. From Cyprianus, 18th century. Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts. Pen and watercolour Late 18th century By: M L CyprianusCyprianus, M. L. Clavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“Ink and watercolour showing a red-winged dragon wearing a gold crown and devouring a lizard.” Cyprianus, Clavis Inferni, late 18th century.

The sword and branch in that last image (my favorite of the bunch) probably refer to the common iconography of God’s twinned powers to create destruction or peace. The Latin text reads Qui facis mirabilia magna solus finis coronat opus. I translate this to something like “You who act alone with great miracles [or miraculous things]: the end shall crown the work.”

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Beyond this type of basic iconographic reading, those looking for reliable answers about the origin or meaning of these images will be disappointed. The Wellcome Trust itself gives a description of the book that sounds like it’s lifted verbatim from Harry Potter:

Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts.

Hoping to find out more, I posted about this bizarre text on my blog Res Obscura three years ago, and some knowledgeable fans of early modern magic came out of the woodwork to help me with translations. One pointed out to me that the cipher alphabet being used here is Cornelius Agrippa’s Transitus Fluvii “Passing through the River” script, adapted from Hebrew by the famed occultist in 1510 (fun fact: it was also used in the Blair Witch Project):

Full Feature HERE!

Three_Books_of_Occult_Philosophy-Book_III-Page_441

A 17th century English translation of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy.Wikimedia Commons

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The book also uses actual Hebrew, such as in this gold-leaf sigil. (A challenge to readers: can anyone translate this?)

L0036629 Gold seal from Cyprianus, 18th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Illustration showing a Gold seal - five trianges inside a circle with alchemical/magical symbols inside and outside the shape. From Cyprianus, 18th century. Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts. Pen and watercolour Late 18th century By: M L CyprianusCyprianus, M. L. Clavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Cyprianus, Clavis Inferni, late 18th century.

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L0040811 Page of text from Cyprianus, 18th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://images.wellcome.ac.uk Page of text in Latin from Cyprianus, 18th century manuscript. Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts. Pen and watercolour Late 18th century By: M L CyprianusCyprianus, M. L. Clavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html

 

L0036626 The Archangel Metraton, from Cyprianus, 18th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://images.wellcome.ac.uk Ink and watercolour image of the Archangel Metratron with seven lighted candles and seven gold stars, surrounded by alchemical/magical symbols in red ink. From Cyprianus, 18th century. Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts. Pen and watercolour Late 18th century By: M L CyprianusCyprianus, M. L. Clavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html

L0036622 Title page, Cyprianus, 18th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://images.wellcome.ac.uk Title page in Latin from Cyprianus, 18th century manuscript. The title reads: ... key of hell or white and black magic, approved by Metratron ... Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts. Pen and watercolour Late 18th century By: M L CyprianusCyprianus, M. L. Clavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Cipriano_e_Justina

 

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L0036620 The serpent Ouroboros, from Cyprianus, 18th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Page from Cyprianus showing the serpent Ouroboros surrounding a circle with lettering in Latin and Hebrew. Cyprianus is also known as the Black Book, and is the textbook of the Black School at Wittenburg, the book from which a witch or sorceror gets his spells. The Black School at Wittenburg was purportedly a place in Germany where one went to learn the black arts. Pen and watercolour Late 18th century By: M L CyprianusCyprianus, M. L. Clavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

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