The arrival of the folkböcker to Scandinavia in the mid-seventeenth century not only spread magical knowledge and techniques of practices from the Continent, they began to change the way that traditional Scandinavian folk sorcery itself was transmitted, organised, and studied. Such material had previously been almost exclusively orally transmitted, until klokfolk (‘wise ones’) increasingly began writing their instructions, incantations and formularies down in collected books. Some of these collections of recipes, lore, spells, and charms began to be called svartkonstböcker – literally ‘books of the black arts’. In the popular consciousness of the English-speaking world, hardly anything is known about them.

As one of the creators and editors of Revelore Press’ Folk Necromancy in Transmission series, it is both my responsibility and my considerable excitement to announce our forthcoming publication of Dr Thomas K. Johnson’s Svartkonstböcker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Arts Book Tradition. Based on Dr Johnson’s doctoral thesis, this voluminous work of reference and analysis is not only the most comprehensive work on svartkonstböcker to date, it is also a commemorative offering being published posthumously in honour of the author’s achievements.

And these achievements are worth going over. In addition to providing complete archive records and translations, this tome contains full English translations of no less than thirty-five manuscripts: the largest corpus of Swedish ‘Black Art’ books ever assembled in one study.

Through such detailed analysis of actual primary source manuscripts, Johnson offers vital perspective on both procedural traits and functional intents of the magical operations contained therein. The accompanying detailed commentary ensures such translations can also be of use and interest to an international academic readership. By providing and contextualising these exhaustive source materials, Dr. Johnson has made conclusions that have not previously been possible. He draws attention, for instance, to the points where oral narratives of folk belief about the books deviate from what is represented by the books themselves. As such, this work is able to present the Swedish black art book in richer, more heterogenous detail than ever before.

Rather than simply throwing the reader into a deep end of academia, Johnson carefully introduces the relevant Swedish terminology, leading readers through to a study of the compilers and owners of such black books (the klokfolk) based once more in unedited archival materials. From here he explores folk beliefs about the magic of the black books themselves, before providing detailed notes on each of the manuscripts and their translations.

While Dr. Johnson hoped this volume would afford no small amount of pleasure in the reading, he also hoped that the scholar will find in it a reliable source of Swedish folk narrative in both the original Swedish as well as in English translation, and that the translations of the manuscripts will serve in the future study of international traditions of charms, charming, and folk grimoires. As his widower, Willow communicated to us, ‘Tom was concerned about all these source materials literally rotting in libraries and peoples’ homes. He wanted to do justice to the legacy of his ancestors.’ We are honoured to be a part of this ongoing wish.

What personally excites about this compendium are the veins of Cyprianic magic to be explored in the Swedish ‘black art’ books. As explored in Cypriana: Old World, our first Folk Necromancy in Transmission anthology, legends of Saint Cyprian and his own book(s) of black magic traveled widely across Europe, and represent a fascinating nexus of Christian and pagan practices, not to mention some fairly expressly necromantic formulary. Permit me one brief foray into the kind of material we are talking about.

One manuscript in our upcoming publication (MS 12 NM 40.034) contains the Cypranis Konster och liiror och des inrat (‘The Arts and Teachings of St. Cyprian and its equipment’), which presents an operation to break an enchantment through a ritual enacting of death that takes a particularly blunt but unthreatening manner:

A person who is enchanted should go on a Sunday morning on an empty stomach and silently under an [abul], cut up a turf and put it on his head, and then go three times around the [apulen] and say these words: ‘If I am enchanted and must wait until I go into the earth, then now I have earth both under me and above me and await healing now, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost’. Recite that three times and put the turf in its place again and go home again, and don’t look back.

Other operations include conjurations of Elemental Kings, at least one operation ‘to perceive if the butter has been bewitched’, instructions in the proper preparation of a divining rod, how to use a cat’s skull in a magical working ‘to have female companionship at night’, and many, many more works of protection, cursing, exorcism, and healing.

Since Revelore Press formally acquired the rights to Dr Johnson’s thesis, we have wanted to release an edition that honours both the ‘black art’ book tradition and Thomas’ considerable contribution to this field. We wish to make this substantial reference work into a beautifully typeset book that stands – in both limited-edition hardback and trade paperback – proudly on the shelf.

Most importantly, however, we feel it essential that this publication honour the wishes of Dr Johnson himself, as well as his nearest and dearest surviving family. As such, we are working closely with his widower (depicted left, at their wedding) to ensure this posthumous celebration of this work is something that not only transmits but expands Thomas’ love and care for his field, that can be guide to this area for others to explore, and an invaluable resource in understanding the particular terroir of this Swedish folk magical book tradition.

Pre-order will open at the Summer Solstice.