The Magician of the Orme V -The Vessel and the Lake

In The Lesser Key of Solomon my attention was arrested by the foundation story in which Solomon imprisoned the 72 spirits in a a brazen vessel with a magical seal and threw it into the Lake of Babylon. Unfortunately, the people of Babylon, hungry to see its wonders and suspecting ‘to find great store of treasure within’, found it, broke it open, and let the demons out to return to their original places. The order of the demons in the text relates to the order in which they were imprisoned. The ‘Vessel of Brass’ and its seal are depicted in the text with instructions for making the seal.

Vessel of Brass

Immediately I thought of the similarities with the Cauldron of the King of Annwn. This magical vessel is described in ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ as also being intricately decorated having a ‘dark trim and pearls’. It is likely to have been made of brass as the people of Annwn/fairies dislike iron. In the Second Branch of The Mabinogion it is brought from a lake in Ireland by two monstrous giants. It is later used by Matholhwch, King of Ireland, to bring dead warriors back to life. Speechless, near-demonic, their battle with the British brings devastation to Ireland – only five women remain  in caves in the wild. It is likewise deleterious for the British – only seven warriors survive.

Gwyn ap Nudd, a King of Annwn, and keeper of the cauldron is described in Culhwch and Olwen as containing the fury of the ‘devils’ of Annwn in order to prevent their destruction of the world. Could it be possible that he was seen as containing them not only in his realm but in the cauldron which, when not being used to boil the meat of the brave* at his fairy feast, was kept carefully sealed?

Could it be possible that, like Solomon, the Magician of the Orme had somehow learned the names of the spirits of Annwn who are contained in the cauldron and how to summon and to command them? That he had attempted to create his own cauldron in imitation of the King of Annwn’s to seal them in? And this is the information contained in ‘The Book the Living Hand’? That, as always, when magicians have the hubris to think they can control spirits who can only truly be contained by the gods, something had gone wrong, and this led to him cutting off his hand to seal it shut?

Whether the Magician of the Orme and his book existed or not I think I have the seeds of a story that remains to be told…

*In ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ we are told the cauldron ‘does not boil a coward’s food, it has not been destined to do so’. The food within may be the flesh of Twrch Trwyth ‘Chief of Boars’ a human shapeshifter hunted by Gwyn. Eating his flesh may represent consuming ancestral wisdom.

The Magician of the Orme IV – Summoning Spirits

After my research had confirmed the possibility of the existence of a ‘Magician of the Orme’ who used book magic to summon the fairies/spirits of Annwn in seventeenth century Wales, I began looking at the origins of this practice. Intuitively it felt at odds with the Brythonic fairy tradition, which is generally based in relationship rather than coercion.

The practice of summoning spirits has ancient roots in Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Hebraic, and Graeco-Roman traditions. We find these influences in Roman Gaul, where lead tablets were found invoking Andedion ‘underworld god(s)’ and andernon ‘underworld spirits’ along with the named Gallo-Brythonic deities Maponos Avernatis and Lugus for aid in battle.

In an underground shrine in Chartres was found a pottery vessel used for incense with script on each of its four panels. Beneath the names of the cardinal points ‘oriens (East), meridie (South), occidens (West), and septentrio (North) were listed the names of spirits – Echa, Aha, Bru, Stna, Bros, Dru, Chor, (Dr)ax,  (flange), Halcemedme, Halchehalar, Halcemedme’. They were invoked for blessings on three ritual objects.

As Christianity became the dominant religion the pagan deities were demonised.  In the medieval and renaissance periods grimoires rose to popularity throughout Europe. Many of these contained long lists of ‘spirits’ or ‘demons’, some of whom originated from pre-Christian gods, along with instructions on how to summon and command them.

The most influential were the Solomonic Clavicles. These date to the fourteenth century but are based on The Testament of Solomon (100 – 400 AD). This tells how the Biblical King, Solomon, built a temple with the aid of demons subdued by a ring gifted to him by God that gave him the power to summon them, and make them reveal their names, abilities, and angelic rulers.

Reading these texts was surprisingly emotive. I found myself swinging from admiration of the prayerful approach, spiritual discipline, and painstaking attention to detail, to rage as I read how this magic was used to subdue the spirits and force them into obedience for low and selfish purposes such as finding treasure. I could feel the fury boiling in my veins – mine or that of the spirits?

In The Greater Key of Solomon we find a complex ritual for ‘conjuring’ spirits. First the magician must make his own equipment – sword, knives, sickle, poniard, wand, staff, robes, crown, shoes, candles, pen, ink, vellum, under the correct day and hour, and consecrate them. For example the knife with the black hilt is made in the day and hour of Saturn, dipped in the blood of a black cat and perfumed.

One of the most important parts is creating 54 ‘Holy Pentacles’ which will control the demons. Each is linked to a planet and an angel and has a set of particular functions.For example, ‘The Fourth Pentacle of Jupiter. — It serveth to acquire riches and honor, and to possess much wealth. Its Angel is Bariel. It should be engraved upon silver in the day and hour of Jupiter when he is in the Sign Cancer.’

The following paragraph vexed me to the extent I felt as if I was the one they intended to ‘strike’:

The Medals or Pentacles, which we make for the purpose of striking terror into the Spirits and reducing them to obedience, have besides this wonderful and excellent virtue. If thou invokest the Spirits by virtue of these Pentacles, they will obey thee without repugnance, and having considered them will be struck with astonishment, and will fear them, and thou shalt see them so surprised by fear and terror, that none of them will be sufficiently bold to oppose thy will.

This has given me a whole new perspective on the pentacle, which symbolises Wicca, and is used widely in modern Pagan magic.

After nine days of fasting, intense prayers to God, and excoriating confessions the Master and his Disciples can begin the rite. This involves further prayers before the construction of an Inner and Second Circle and square traced ‘towards the Four Quarters of the Earth’ with a knife, sword, or sickle. I found myself wincing and feeling a sense of wrongness at the use of such weapons to carve out ‘sacred space’.

The circle is inscribed with the Names of God (TETRAGRAMMATON and the tetragrammatonic names: ‘at the East, AL, El; at the West IH, Yah; at the South AGLA, agla; and at the North ADNI, Adonai’. The spirits are then invoked in their prescribed quarter with the aid of the Pentacles and Knife – the magician must ‘raise it towards the sky as if he wished to beat or strike the Air’ (more violence!).

The spirits are ‘conjured’ by the Power, Wisdom, and Virtue of the Spirit of God’.If the spirits do not come they are threatened not only with the Divine Names but an appalling array of punishments:

on the contrary, ye come not quickly, and ye show yourselves self-opinionated, rebellious, and contumacious… by the which Names we shall harass you… which will make ye tremble and quake with fear… if ye yet resist our powerful conjurations, we shall pronounce against you this warrant of arrest in the Name of God Almighty, and this definite sentence that ye shall fall into dangerous disease and leprosy, and that in sign of the Divine Vengeance ye shall all perish by a terrifying and horrible death, and that a fire shall consume and devour you on every side, and utterly crush you; and that by the Power of God, a flame shall go forth from His Mouth which shall burn ye up and reduce ye unto nothing in Hell. Wherefore delay ye not to come, for we shall not cease from these powerful conjurations until ye shall be obliged to appear against your will.

I was shocked to find such a violent and dominative origin to the rituals whose components, such as circle casting and orienting to/calling to the quarters, have been passed down through the Golden Dawn (Mathers played a large role in editing and popularising the Solomonic Clavicles), through the Western Occult tradition, to Wicca and Druidry, and are used in most generic Pagan rituals.

In The Lesser Key of Solomon we find a similar circle with an inner square labelled MASTER along with a triangle into which to conjure the spirits and a similar use of prayers to God and threats of punishment. This text provides a list of 72 spirits who are governed by the Four Kings of the Cardinal Directions: Amayon (East), Corson (West), Ziminiar (North), and Gaap (South). Itlists their names and powers and provides seals which the magician must wear on his breast to control them.

(7.) AMON – The Seventh Spirit is Amon. He is a Marquis great in power, and most stern. He appeareth like a Wolf with a Serpent’s tail, vomiting out of his mouth flames of fire; but at the command of the Magician he putteth on the shape of a Man with Dog’s teeth beset in a head like a Raven; or else like a Man with a Raven’s head (simply). He telleth all things Past and to Come. He procureth feuds and reconcileth controversies between friends. He governeth 40 Legions of Spirits. His Seal is this which is to be worn as aforesaid, etc.’

7 Amon

(8.) BARBATOS . – The Eighth Spirit is Barbatos. He is a Great Duke, and appeareth when the Sun is in Sagittary, with four noble Kings and their companies of great troops. He giveth understanding of the singing of Birds, and of the Voices of other creatures, such as the barking of Dogs. He breaketh the Hidden Treasures open that have been laid by the Enchantments of Magicians. He is of the Order of Virtues, of which some part he retaineth still; and he knoweth all things Past, and to come, and conciliateth Friends and those that be in Power. He ruleth over 30 Legions of Spirits. His Seal of Obedience is this which is to be worn as aforesaid, etc.

8 Barbatos

The influence of the Solomnic tradition on English ritual magic is evidenced by Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was published in England in 1584. It contains similar operations featuring fasting, prayers, circles, seals, inscriptions, and most disturbingly the thrusting of ‘five bright swords’ into ‘the five circles of the infernal Kings of the North’: SITRAEL, PALANTHAN, THAMAAR, FALAUR and SITRAMI.

Here we find spirits conjured not only by the name of God but by ‘the King and Queen of Fairies’. This suggests the Fairy King and Queen were invoked, as rulers of the fairies, to command them and put me in mind of how Gwyn was seen to mediate the destructive fury of the spirits of Annwn/fairies. In the Speculum Christiani, Gwyn is invoked for love of his mate to remove the Evil Eye.

Scot also speaks of summoning the fairy Sibylia into a crystal and Sibylia and her fairy sisters Milia and Achilia to bring the magician a ring of invisibility: ‘For there will come to thee fair women, and all in white clothing, and one of them will put a Ring upon they finger, wherewith you shalt go invisible… When thou hast this Ring on thy finger, look in a Glass, and thou shalt not see they self.’

There is much that is sublime, numinous, and poetic within the tradition of ritual magic yet it is clear how the spirits and their powers are abused, subdued and forced into obedience to obey the petty requests of the magician.


Aleister Crowley (ed), S. L. MacGregor Mathers (transl), The Lesser Key of Solomon, (1904)
Elizabeth M. Butler, Ritual Magic, (Penn State University Press, 1999)
Joseph H. Peterson (ed), S. L. MacGregor Mathers (transl), The Key of Solomon, (1999)
Richard Gordon, Dominic Joly, William van Andringa, ‘A Prayer for Blessings on Three Ritual Objects at Chartres’, Magical Practice in the Latin West, (University of Zaragoza, 2005)
Valerie Irene Jane Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, (Princeton University Press, 1991)

The Magician of the Orme III – Fairy Magic in Wales

Following my visit to the Great Orme I began researching the possibility of the existence of a magician who invoked the spirits of Annwn/fairies, recorded their names in a book, and was executed in 1679.

I found out, in contrast to England and Scotland, the numbers of persecutions for witchcraft in Wales were very low. Between 1568 and 1698 forty-two suspects were prosecuted, eight were found guilty, and five sentenced to death. The earliest and most famous case was Gwen ferch Ellis, who was hung in Denbigh town square in 1594. Most of the suspects were women, but included yeomen.

I did not find any cases of execution for witchcraft in Ruthin in 1679. However, there was a gallows outside the courthouse in Ruthin linked to the gaol. The last hanging took place in 1679 and was a Catholic priest called Father Charles Mahoney, who was shipwrecked trying to make his way home to Ireland from Rome.

Intriguingly, in relation to the name of the magician that came through to me being Hugh, I found a reference to a Hugh Bryghan who was persecuted for using ‘art magic’ in Glamorgan much earlier in 1568. He was a soothsayer who found stolen goods through scrying, with the aid of a helper, in a crystal. He denied using ‘familiar spirits’ or keeping them in a crystal and escaped with a fine.

In Wales a wide variety of names were used to refer to magical practitioners – hudolwyr ‘magician’, rheibwyr ‘wizard’, daroganwyr’ ‘soothsayer, swynwyr or swynwraig ‘charmer’ or ‘cunning man’ or ‘cunning woman’, consuwyr ‘conjuror’. The Welsh word for magic is hud. The term wits ‘witch’ is an English loan-word and both it, and persecutions for witchcraft, seem to be English importations. It may thus be suggested that the Welsh were far more tolerant of their magical practitioners.

shui rhys and the tylwyth teg from British Goblins

Richard Suggett notes that, in Wales, there was a longstanding tradition of magical practitioners gaining their ‘power and knowledge’ from Y Tylwyth Teg ‘the Fair Family’ or ‘fairies’. Because they were not ‘constrained by the ordinary limits of time, space and body… they had access to knowledge ordinarily unavailable to men and women.’ This included ‘knowledge of many hidden things’, ‘how to cure illnesses that were beyond the expertise of physicians and surgeons’ and ‘information on the future as well as the past. Because of these characteristics, some enchanters specialised in trying to obtain knowledge from the fairies. Cunning-folk would deny that they had dealings with devils or familiars, but they might concede – or even boast – that they consulted the fairies.’

Unfortunately the two examples we have of prosecutions of persons who claimed a relationship with fairies were charlatans. In 1636 Harry Lloyd of Llandygai was accused of ‘wicked and unlawful arts’ and ‘familiarity with wicked spirits’. He tricked his victims by saying he would make them rich in ‘gold and silver’, which he received from the fairies when on Tuesday and Thursday nights, if they would give him a few shillings to buy candles. Of course these offerings were never enough to prevail, he asked for more and more more money and the fairy gold and silver never materialised.

Ann Jones claimed to be able to heal with the aid of the fairies through magical ‘dew gathered in the month of May’. To heal the sick daughter of John Lewys she said the fairies needed some money on which the girl had breathed. She took nine shillings and did not return. Likewise she told Griffith ap Owen that to cure his child she needed money to show to the fairies and disappeared with 40 shillings in gold. She was committed to Denbighshire gaol and died during her imprisonment.

More significantly, for this line of research, there is also evidence of fairies being invoked by ritual magicians and their spells for invoking and controlling appearing in books. According to Ronald Hutton ‘Fairies were also directly involved in practical magical operations, as proved by the surviving manuscripts of sorcerers from the period between 1560 and 1640. Five contain directions for their invocation and control.’

Suggett notes that conjurers rose to a position of particular importance during the seventeenth century. ‘The title ‘conjurer’ implied a reputation for conjuration, that is the magical technique of invoking and controlling spirits. This was the ars magna of the conjurer. Some conjurers were believed to keep devils, which permanently resided in their magic books.’

Suggett also speaks about the importance of knowing the names of fairies. ‘The fairies lacked the named individuality of human society or, rather, fairy names were not readily apparent to humans. The discovery of a fairy name was part of the process which integrated them – temporarily – in human society. This seems to be fundamental.’ This might be linked to a magician who learnt the names of the spirits of Annwn/fairies and wrote these down, along with invocations and commands in a book.

Some fascinating examples of conjurer’s books are provided by Suggett:

Conjurers compiled their own manuscript books of recipes, charms and incantations, and a few have survived… The most interesting of these manuscripts is the secret book (‘llyfr cyfrin’) of an unnamed Denbighshire wise-man. This stubby volume has been described by Kate Bosse Griffiths: it has 200 pages but was small enough to fit in the pocket of a great coat. The contents were written in Welsh and English and included several conjuring formulae to summon the spirits called fairies (tylwyth teg); a formula to invocate and converse with spirits of the dead; methods of telling fortunes through astrology; and various charms in English and Welsh, one with the note that these ‘words being spoke with grate revarens and faith has don wonders’…

The most famous conjuring Book in Wales was the chained and padlocked book Cwrtycadno. The appearance of this volume was a piece of pure theatre. The large book secured with three locks was placed on the table during consultation but remained locked; it was rumoured that the conjurer’s devils resided within it.

The latter was part of the library of the famous Welsh conjurers of the Harries family who prospered during the nineteenth century at the end of the which the book mysteriously disappeared.

This shows that magicians/conjurers and books recording the names, invocations, and commands of fairies certainly existed during the seventeenth century. I found no evidence for ‘The Book of the Living Hand’ or the Magician of the Orme yet my research showed their existence was possible.


Ronald Hutton, ‘The Making of the Early Modern British Fairy Tradition’, The Historical Journal, 57, 4, (Cambridge Press, 2014)
Richard Suggett, A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Wales, (The History Press, 2008)
Richard Suggett, Welsh Witches: Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic from Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Wales, (Attramentous Press, 2018)

The Magician of the Orme II – The Great Orme

Before starting my historical research I visited the Great Orme. I discovered that Orme is a Norse word meaning ‘sea serpent’ suggesting it was seen as a serpent living in the stone and guarding the coast. The Welsh name is, more prosaically, Y Gogarth which means ‘terraced rock’ and is equally fitting.


As I walked around the Orme, seeing the many heads of the serpent in the rock, admiring the rock flowers, searching for the springs (I only found Fynnon Gogarth and Fynnon Gaseg) I could imagine how a magician might have traversed the land, knowing all its features and the serpent intimately.

On the beach near Llandudno I found a shell that reminded me of the eye on the back of the magician’s hand.

I found out from a leaflet at the visitor centre the area has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period with flint tools and an intricately carved horse’s skull being found in the limestone caves. There is a Neolithic Cromlech, Bronze Age Mines, the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, and St Tudno lived in a cave (Tudno’s Cave) and built a church during the 6th century. Ridges and furrows provide evidence of a medieval farming community. Mining was resumed in the 17th century. The miners were housed at Cwlach and Maes y Fachell. I didn’t find any evidence of people living on the Orme during the period the magician might have lived or any lore suggesting the existence of a magician.


Yet on May Eve I had a dream that the magician was sleeping where I stayed in the Grand Hotel (I got a cheap room on the top floor – no doubt cheap because the lights in the bathroom flashed on and off like a disco and there were noisy seagulls nesting on the roof above!) and I had somehow missed him and was chasing him up down the stairs and lifts and looking behind the trolleys of the house keepers. On waking I had a vision of the magician invoking spirits in a huge cave underground.


This was significant because that day (May Day) I visited the Bronze Age mines. I hadn’t been before and did not know that, with over 5 miles over of tunnels, they are the largest mines in Europe or that they contain the largest man-made cave. The tunnels leading into the cave are open to the public.


When I entered I struck with awe not only by this finding but the numinosity of the great cavern, with its music of dripping calcite, illuminated by lighting that changed colour to accentuate the features of the rock. I could sense the press of the presence of the spirits, see their shifting forms, their faces.


I had the sense that, although it was made for mining bronze, it was seen as sacred – perhaps as the belly of the great sea serpent. It also seemed possible that Nodens/Nudd ‘Lord of the Mines’, his son Gwyn, and the spirits of Annwn along with the dead were revered and their fury was placated there.

That rituals took place to appease the underworld gods and spirits in the mines was evidenced by the burial of a cat surrounded by blackberry seeds 60 metres down. Uncannily, after I left the mines, crossing a field in search of the cromlech, a black cat approached and rubbed around my legs.

I found no direct evidence of the existence of a magician, but it certainly seemed possible he might have existed, found his way into the cavern and used it to invoke the spirits of Annwn.


The Magician of the Orme I – The Book of the Living Hand

The Book of the Living Hand
now lies closed.

Who closed it?

The Hand itself
or the hand of another?

Who will dare
try to bring the Living Hand to life,
to ask it to open the pages,
to fold them back,

to reveal the names
of the terrible beings who will answer,
to risk releasing their fury
into the world again?

What will lie within?
Will the names be the same
or will the pages have been rewritten
in the Living Hand’s sleep?

Do you see its colour returning?

The dim pulse of a vein?

The opening of the eyelid
on the back of the hand?

The twitch of a finger?

The Book of the Living Hand

This poem and sketch are based on a vision I had several months ago of a book whose cover had been closed by a human hand with an eye on the back. The hand had become part of the book. This roused a series of questions. Who did it belong to? Who are the furious spirits within its pages? How did its owner lose their hand and how did it become part of the book? What is the significance of the eye?

In a series of gnoses it was revealed that it belonged to ‘the Magician of the Orme’ (the Great Orme in North Wales). Within are the names of the spirits of Annwn whose fury Gwyn ap Nudd holds back to prevent their destruction of the world. The magician cut off his hand in a desperate act of magic to seal the book shut before being arrested on the grounds of practicing witchcraft involving the aid of ‘devils’ and was hung in Ruthin in 1679. The meaning of the eye, as yet, remains concealed.

This inspired me to set out doing some research into whether such a magician and his book could have existed. It’s led me on an interesting adventure to the Orme and through the history of spirit aid magic in seventeenth century Wales and beyond. In the following posts I will be sharing my findings.