Mar 252013

Llewellyn Publishing’s issue of The Long Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire (edited by Daniel Harms) provides opportunity for wide distribution of a once very secret, but at the same time, once vital element in certain rural sections of America. As Mr. Harms says in his Introduction, “Der Lang Verborgene Freund, or The Long Lost Friend, is perhaps the most influential and well known of all the grimoires, or books of magic, to originate in the New World.” “Indeed, the book might be the most influential American work that has eluded the literary canon, and an essential document of the occult tradition in North America.” (In his Endnotes, Mr. Harm observes that the title is somewhat incorrect, as “Verborgene” is more properly understood as “hidden,” hence, The Long Hidden Friend). Published by John George Hohman in Pennsylvania sometime around 1820 (the volume is significant for being a printed practical magick book with an author’s name attached; others were published either anonymously or under a pseudonym), the book is an example of a genre called the Hausvaterliteratur (“House-Father-Literature”) of Germany, carried into the frontiers of America by German settlers in what is known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch” region (from Deutsch).

Its description as a “spell-book” is also misleading: although it is the primary text for Pennsylvania “Pow-Wow” healing systems and contains many folk-charms, it primarily serves (as Mr. Harms says) as a “self-sufficency” book, intended to provide a remedy guide for individuals and livestock living in places where outside resources were limited. Samples include “To stop Bleeding at any time”; “Another way to stop Blood”; “Another similar Prescription”; “cure for the Tooth-Ache”; “A very good remedy to cure Sores”; “A good cure for Wounds”; and “To make an Oil out of Paper, which is good for sore eyes.” As Mr. Harms points out, the book gives a unique insight into pioneer life (some of the ingredients are hard to come by today); possession and knowledge of the book were kept “hidden,” however, and superstitions grew up around it (merely having a volume in one’s home was said to protect one from misfortune, and healers were sometimes said not to be able to heal without a copy present). Widely dispersed, The Long Lost Friend has become the most well-known American magick book, with its own unique role in 19th century American life. Mr. Harms provides the most complete biography of Mr. Hohman yet compiled (acknowledging insurmountable gaps in his history); discussion of the “legitimization” of The Long Lost Friend, in addition to its influence; medicine and charming in the text; Hohman’s sources; and the various editions of the work; as well as the text, and a reproduction of the German original. An invaluable resource, this reproduction is a “must-have” for anyone interested in America’s folk-magick past, with much gratitude owed Mr. Harms and Llewellyn for making this vital work available and accessible.

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