Many people will have heard of the Tuba Veneris, ‘The Trumpet of Venus’, also called Libellus Veneri Nigro Sacer, ‘The Little Book Sacred to the Black Venus’ , because of its inclusion in bibliographies of Dr. John Dee, but few can have had the opportunity to read it: In the 1990s, Robert Turner asked Christopher Upton to translate the manuscript, but it was never published. Two German translations were issued in the eighteenth century, but these are not the most accessible of works. Here we have a complete facsimile of the Warburg manuscript, a transcription of the Latin, and a revised version of Christopher Upton’s translation, all edited by Cousins.
The first thing to be said is that, though the Tuba Veneris is dated 1580, it is doubtful if John Dee had anything to do with the work. It is true that the preface contains a heading: “John Dee, to lovers of the Magical Art, greetings”, implying that he was the author. But a preface is often written after the book itself, and Cousins provides evidence that that was the case here. The Warburg manuscript is not in Dee’s handwriting, nor is the text in his style. In those days it was common to ascribe a magical work to someone with a reputation for occult powers such as King Solomon or Dr. Faustus.
The Warburg manuscript has scraps of a label which are too fragmentary to be read but enough survive to show that they were written in German. Two other copies, of somewhat later date, are in libraries in Germany, and there are two German translations. All of this suggests a German origin for the Tuba.
Most grimoires follow a standard methodology: the operator, having gone through a period of preparation such as fasting, builds a magic circle on the floor to protect against any evil. Then, armed with implements such as a wand and a sword, which he has previously consecrated, he endeavours to summon spirits to appear outside the circle. If one does he gives it instructions and releases it to go and carry out the tasks.
The instructions given in the Tuba follow this general pattern, except that the magician is not told to purify himself first. But it does introduce one novelty: every spirit was under the dominion of some greater spirit, in the present instance Venus. There are said to be six spirits ruled by Venus, who has often been associated with the number six. Their names are Mogarip, Anabosar, Alkyzub, Belzazel, Falkaroth, and Methgazub. It is likely that these names are arbitrary. Demons do not seem to have names with a meaning unlike angels, for instance Uriel means ‘God is my light’ in Hebrew. For each of the six is given a seal, which is to be engraved upon a copper plate, and beneath it a call, likewise made up of meaningless words.
Before I read the Tuba I had assumed that it dealt with magical means of locating buried treasure. In fact, the six demons are not assigned specific areas of influence (unlike those of for instance the Goetia, where each has a particular talent e.g. to know the will of a king). The only mention of the subject is the comment that special precautions must be taken “if the spirits are compelled to bring treasure or money”.
Nevertheless, Cousins had provided a long appendix on sixteenth century treasure hunting, and in particular that by John Dee, despite his probably having nothing to do with the Tuba. Before the advent of bank vaults it was common for people to bury their valuables at spots where they thought that they could find them again hence the production of treasure maps. Favourite spots included ancient burial mounds and wayside crosses which used to be common. Such places inevitably attracted treasure seekers. This was a hazardous and frequently unrewarding profession, since it was illegal, and any treasure automatically became the property of the Crown. So it had to be done under conditions of great secrecy hence it is impossible to write a history of the practice.
Nonetheless one can make some general observations. In the late sixteenth century there was an “increased use of the Diving [sic] Rod”. This was when John Dee took an interest and Cousins supplies as many details as are available. Dee endeavoured to stay within the law and kept notes, at least some of which have survived.
Cousins evidently anticipates some of his readers trying these things out. Where the Tuba says that the trumpet should be taken from a live bull, he observes that this is today ‘unethical’ (it is also, I would have thought, almost impossible), and suggests instead following the Key of Solomon, which specifies making a trumpet from ‘new wood’. ”If woodcraft skills are absent a trumpet made from card or a plastic replica is quite acceptable.” – Gareth J. Medway.