Francis Barrett (occultist)
Francis Barrett According to his biographer Francis King, Francis Barrett’s parents were humble folk married in the parish of St. Martin’s in the Fields on September 29, 1772: If my identification of the parents of the magician Francis Barrett is correct it is clear that his origins were comparatively humble. For at the time of his marriage to Ann Jones the elder Barrett was illiterate, signing his name with a cross. Interestingly enough Ann Jones was literate—not only did she sign the register (Anne (sic) Jones) but her signatures displays a practiced hand, i.e.that of someone used to writing, not that of someone whose sole claim to literacy was the ability to write a signature in large, clumsy pot-hook of the sort often found in Parish Registers of the period. The date of Barrett’s birth is uncertain and unremarkable. He was a Protestant middle-class Anglo-Irish or Welsh male born in London. A document exists from a parish register in St. Marylebone London indicating the birth of a Francis Barrett born December 18, 1774, to Francis Barrett and Anne Jones then baptized at St Mary’s Church in Marylebone, January 1775.Little after that time is known about him until 1800, when a marriage register from the parish of Barnstaple was signed by a Francis Barrett and a very young woman by the name of GraceHodge. Some debate exists on the identity of Barrett’s wife; however, he did marry, and he later reported that he had one son. Barrett and his family lived in two locations in London, where in the Walworth district he worked as an apothecary while he compiled The Magus.
Barrett, an Englishman, claimed himself to be a student of chemistry, metaphysics, and natural occult philosophy. He was known to be an extreme eccentric who gave lessons in the magical arts in his apartment and fastidiously translated Kabbalistic and other ancient texts into English.
He was very enthusiastic about reviving interest in the occult arts, and published a magical textbook called The Magus. Few people, even today, know that The Magus was a compilation, almost entirely consisting of selections from Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy attributed to Agrippa and the Robert Turner's 1655 translation of the Heptameron of Peter of Abano. Barrett made modifications and modernized the spelling and syntax of these selections. Apart from possibly influencing the English occult novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the book gained little notice until it influenced Eliphas Levi.
The Magus also served as an advertising tool. In it Barrett sought interested people wanting to help form his magic circle. An advertisement in The Magus (Vol. 2, p. 140) refers to an otherwise unknown school founded by Barrett.
According to the advertisement :
The Author of this Work respectfully informs those that are curious in the studies of Art and Nature, especially of Natural and Occult Philosophy, Chemistry, Astrology, etc., etc., that, having been indefatigable in his researches in those sublime Sciences; of which he has treated at large in this book, that he gives private instructions and lectures upon any of the above-mentioned Sciences; in the course of which he will discover many curious and rare experiments.
Those who become Students will be initiated into the choicest operations of Natural Philosophy, Natural Magic, the Cabbala, Chemistry, the Talismanic Arts, Hermetic Philosophy, Astrology, Physiognomy, etc., etc. Likewise they will acquire the knowledge of the Rites, Mysteries, Ceremonies and Principles of the ancient Philosophers, Magi, Cabbalists, and Adepts, etc.
The Purpose of this school (which will consist of no greater number than Twelve Students) being to investigate the hidden treasures of Nature; to bring the Mind to a contemplation of the Eternal Wisdom; to promote the discovery of whatever may conduce to the perfection of Man; the alleviating the miseries and calamities of this life, both in respect of ourselves and others; the study of morality and religion here, in order to secure to ourselves felicity hereafter; and, finally, the promulgation of whatever may conduce to the general happiness and welfare of mankind.
When writing about witches Barrett stated that he did not believe that their power to torment or kill by enchantment, touch or by using a wax effigy came from Satan. He claimed if the Devil wanted to kill a man guilty of deadly sin, he did not need a witch as an intermediary.
Barrett's belief in magical power might be summed up this way:
The magical power is in the inward or inner man. A certain proportion of the inner man longs for the external in all things. When the person is in the appropriate disposition an appropriate connection between man and object can be attained.
- King, Francis X. (1992). The Flying Sorcerer: Being the Aeronautical Adventures of Francis Barrett. Oxford: Mandrake. p. 29.
- Priddle, R.A. (2013). More Cunning Than Folk: An Analysis of Francis Barrett's 'The Magus' as Indicative of a Transitional Period in English Magic. Ottawa: The University of Ottawa.
- Francis King, The Flying Sorcerer (Oxford: Mandrake, 1992)
- Jason Semmens, “The Magus in Cornwall: An Unknown Chapter in the Life of Francis Barrett, F.R.C.” Old Cornwall 13, No. 1 (2003) pp. 18–21.
- Timothy D’Arch Smith, The Books of the Beast (London, 1987) pp. 89–97.