Lecouteux, an academic with a broad body of work delving into the arcane, has offered a work perhaps initially presented as a curiosity for academics to peer upon, has also in this indirect way supplied those of less lofty interests with a de facto spell book. Like Abracadabra and Presto, Dictionary of Ancient Magic Words and Spells offers an instantly expanded vocabulary of utterances to incant for occasions from A-Z.  Whether that is to amputate a cattle’s leg or to enchant the neighbor’s strapping young son into your bed, Lecouteux has the word for it.

While perhaps a bit dry on a first read – etymology in bulk can strain the most ardent of word nerds – each entry has data rich enough to incorporate into any magical practice a slightly deviant heart desires. Even better, each entry references the source material, giving peering peers an opportunity to examine, criticize, re-translate, and inadvertently turn themselves into frogs. (Well, not really – but would we ever hear about it if they did?)

If any complaint is to be offered at all, it is one of categorization for use by those reading with more practical than intellectual intents in mind. A code system – such as HE for healing spells, BA for banishing and so on – would make this lexicon much faster to navigate on a reread. As it is, wily word wizards will have to use flags and bookmarks (or highlights, for those of us that use electronic readers) to make notes for future weaving wishes.

The anything-but-dry presentation by Lecouteux makes this book a must-add for someone curating careful resources for magic work. This belongs on a shelf between that favorite, oft-used herbal and that collection of favorite spells. The history, illustrations, and above all the words themselves beg for a reintroduction into living use – although, word of warning, few of them are actually rated as valid in Scrabble.

~ review by Diana Rajchel

Author: Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2014
pp. 415, $35.00

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