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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Centuries-old Cushing book likely signed in blood

Found+in+Cushing+Library%26%238217%3Bs+Rare+Books+and+Manuscripts+collection%2C+%26%238220%3BDe+Occulta+Philosophia+Libri+Tres%26%238221%3B+explores+occult+religions+and+philosophies.
Photo by Photo by Annie Lui

Found in Cushing Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts collection, “De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres” explores occult religions and philosophies.

Used books often bear traces left by previous readers. Sometimes these marks are as familiar as coffee stains; other times they can be as uncanny as the devil’s signature.
In the Rare Books and Manuscripts collection in the Cushing Library lies Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa’s “De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres.” In fear of condemnation from the church, Agrippa hesitated before allowing his writings to be published in 1533.
Opening the book reveals occult symbols and descriptions for their use, but it also exposes the stories of those who have held it before. Pages corrupted by stains and fading ink sketch the tendencies of readers. During its circulation, the book also gained a note and signature that appears to be written in blood.
English Ph.D. student Micheala Baca said even though Agrippa’s book might be viewed as containing conjurations, the author did not intend for his work to offer anything more than a scientific understanding for people curious about occult religions and philosophies.
“There’s no sort of spell-type stuff,” Baca said. “This is like a science textbook, basically. It discusses all of the various symbols and elements and things that make up human life in the world and creates the balance between all of them.”
Baca said she’s particularly interested in the notes found in the book’s margins, such as the bloody message and signature. According to Baca, the translation of this message states “When you have done all that is contained here, I will be at your command — Beelzebub.”
Since preserving the book means the page can’t be tested, it’s unclear whether the message is truly written in blood. However, Baca said the signature “Beelzebub,” often used as synonym for the devil, indicates serious occult possibilities. Other surviving copies of this book do not contain such unique and unsettling marks.
“I can’t prove anything one way or another, but I think [our copy] is probably completely unique,” Baca said. “This one seems to have been used differently, like it was used by someone who was invested in it, rather than just looking at it from a scientific application standpoint.”
Assistant professor in the department of performance studies ames Ball said signatures like these are powerful regardless of whether the blood is real because they are able to generate conversations about books as artifactual knowledge.
“It’s the unique symbol that attests to the writer’s presence, but it’s also a paradox because it’s also the clearest evidence of the way that writing is detachable from an author,” Ball said. “There’s all sorts of effects and forces that tumble out from this artifact of a signature in blood of some occult incantation.”
Ball said when he teaches his Performing Literature class, he encourages students to consider that they are leaving a part of themselves behind in each book they touch.
“The use of the books degrades them,” Ball said. “Every time I touch the book I’m leaving part of my body on it, and those materials are going to degrade it, so the body itself is what ultimately destroys the book. The body is what the books in the library have to be protected from, even if it’s what makes the books in the library interesting.”
But not all interactions with books are damaging. Another unique aspect of Agrippa’s book is the cover that was changed by an unknown person with unknown intentions. Cataloger and Italian resources librarian Felicia Piscitelli said this cover contains sacred music. This ironic way of refurbishing a book containing the devil’s signature seems almost sacrilegious, but instead adds to the book’s mystery.
“It looks like whoever covered the book got a couple of pages from a chant book and used it as the cover,” Piscitelli said. “Whether they were trying to make fun of the chant or whether they just thought it looked pretty, I don’t know.”

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