Review: The Black Arts

As I plan my game of Mage: the Awakening I’m in search of real occultism to adapt to the Chronicle. I believe I was recommended this book by an episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff (probably a section of Ken’s Bookshelf or some sort of occult primer segment). The Black Arts provides an interesting overview of the field from Astrology to the Black Mass.

The Black Arts

by Richard Cavendish

Richard Cavendish covers the material with a fairly clear academic style. His otherwise dry prose is spruced up with frequent bits of historical details and the occasional diagram. He presents himself as a believer but maintains a quiet level of skepticism about the field of occultism, particularly with some of the divinatory practices.

The subject matter covered is quite broad. The Black arts covers the divinatory methods of Astrology, the Tarot and Numerology in detail. The author provides a primer on the Cabala and various correspondences. Necromancy, Satanism, Witchcraft, and other practices each get their own sections.

Overall I think this was most interesting from the perspective of seeing how occultists and sorcerers think. Understanding the magical thinking of occultists is helpful to me (I tend follow scientific rationalism and much less wishfulness). The book also illustrated the point that western occultism is extremely misogynistic. Overall, Cavendish did not make the black arts and those who practice it seem very attractive.

In terms of adapting the material to Mage: the Awakening however this is very helpful. My plan is to emphasize the dangers of power and how finding the proper path to wisdom is difficult. For that purpose the Black Arts is helpful. I will likely use this book when fleshing out the pretentious “mentor” who first brings the group together. My concept is a wizard in name only, a mortal who knows some rituals for manipulating simple spirits and possesses no real power of his own. The PCs first task will be realizing the limits of their teacher.

As a warning, the cover of this book is a bit creepy for some. Combined with the title and my habit of leaving books lying around in odd places, I freaked out my mother-in-law. Not sure if that is a selling point or not.