A New Old Book

by Liz

I love old books. I don’t know if any of you have picked up on my love of books in general… but specifically I love older books because they have so much character which I think in part, is due to their age and because they were made during a different era than my own.

Also, like many other bookish types I know, I love the smell of a well-cared-for old book; opening an old book and smelling the faint scent of the ageing paper and ink transports the reader into a different place while they read, and overall improves reading experiences exponentially (in my personal and humble opinion).

Today, I’m gushing about one book in particular that I recently picked up at th goodwill: The Magic of Love – Ancient and not so ancient notions, potions, spells and charms devoted to love magic by Owen S. Rachleff. It’s really quite a charming and slim volume with only 54 pages and a frankly darling layout (which can be attributed to Ronald Rodegast, who did the design for the book).

In terms of content, the book has 8 chapters in addition to the introduction and afterthought which cover the following (in order):

  1. Ancient Formulas and Incantations of Love
  2. Divinations of Love
  3. Amulets and Talismans of Love
  4. The Magic of Nature
  5. Love Potions and Perfumes
  6. Oracles and Omens
  7. Games for Lovers
  8. The Magic of Marriage

Given that this volume is only 54 pages, it seems like a tall order to cover all of those topics, and as a result this book isn’t extremely in-depth. What it does provide is a taste of various love magic practices from a variety of cultures; unfortunately and frustratingly, there is absolutely no citation whatsoever, nor is there a reference page, or list of suggested readings. Being an observant reader remedies this fairly well though, as Rachleff often makes vague references to where he gets his information within the text, though I imagine it will take some work to actually find most sources of his information.

Also, I don’t make any assertions that all of what’s in this book is sound or accurate… in fact, some of what’s said sounds simply hokey and a critical reader with a little bit of knowledge can tell when he’s trying to stretch and warp something to make it fit within the scope of the book (it all starts in the introduction… where he asserts that prehistoric fertility symbols are really “idealized versions of Love itself”… and there’s plenty more).

Despite the lack of references and some rather flowery and absurd language, this remains a charming little book. There are undoubtedly better books about love magic, with more references that are better researched and more in-depth that include recipes and diagrams and all that jazz… but to me that takes some of the fun out of exploring this area of magical practice.

I think of this book as a jumping off point, that gives you just enough to start researching into love magic from a number of cultures. No book is perfect, and I think this book is just a really charming little book that I would pull off a shelf to sit with and look through, whether with the intent of working some love magic or just for the kitsch factor.

I’m not commenting of the ethics of working love magic, or what my personal views on the subject are – just that this is an interesting and charming little book by an interesting author (more on that in a moment) that I this is lovely. (I will undoubtedly write up something on my personal feelings regarding love magic at some point, just not tonight.)

My favorite chapters are: the one on ancient love magic, the one concerning amulets and talismans, and the one on potions and perfumes. I think this reflects both my love of books and my love of crafts…

On the Author:

It was actually quite difficult to track down much information on author Owen Rachleff. In 1971 Rachleff wrote The Occult Conceit, a scathing critique of the modern pagan and occult community and can be most readily defined as a scholar (having been an assistant professor of humanities at New York University) and a skeptic. Owen Rachleff passed away on October 29, 2009 due to complications with Parkinson’s Disease. His work as an author spans a wide range of genres including science fiction, art history/analysis, religion and the occult.

Overall, I’m really pleased to add this book to my library, and through it I learned about an author who I would have never come across otherwise. Owen Rachleff did write a book entitled The Occult in Art which just begs to be added to my addition of witchy coffee table books!