Do you want to save the world? We all know the bees are dying, and pollenating plants is going to be a lot harder without them. If I asked you to help me save the bees, would you do it? Would you be prepared to engage in a lengthy act of ritual magic?
Glad to hear it. This is what we do:
First, kill a lot of bees, then dry and powder them. Don’t worry, this is the most normal thing you’re going to do for the rest of the spell.
Second, decapitate a female calf in a house with fourteen shuttered windows on its eastern side. Sew up the mouth, nostrils, ears, eyes, rectum, and vulva. Yes, I really said that.
Then beat the corpse with the largest dog penis you can find, every day, for fifty days.
Third, sew the head back onto the body and keep it in the house for another fifty days, until it spontaneously starts to produce worms, which you’ll throw the bucket of dead powdered bees over.
Fourth, seal the worms up for another fifty days, and finally the whole lot will explode into a huge mass of spontaneously generated bees. You can beat them with the dog penis again if you like.
Welcome to the world of the Liber Vaccae.
That isn’t all. In one spell, intended to create an ointment that allows you to see spirits, the magician must pulp the eye of a whale and mix it with his own semen. He then force-feeds it to a rooster for a while until it grows huge in size and its eyes start blazing with holy fire.
If using your own semen in magic hasn’t sent you running for the hills (or put you out of the game, if you don’t happen to be a man) then you could also create a homunculus by creating a mixture of semen, ‘sun stone’, green zinc and a magnet, which you then stir in with the sap of a white willow and use to impregnate a sheep.
You plug its vagina with the sun stone, smear it with the blood of a cow, and lock it up in a house until either it gives birth, or animal welfare agents arrest you. There’s also a version of the spell where you feed an ape flesh that has been marinated in your blood, then ‘manually stimulate’ it… if you get my meaning (honestly, that’s what the book says – and not just once, either, you have to do it multiple times).
Once the animal has given birth (yes, even the male ape you’ve been jerking off will eventually pop a sprog) the offspring is kept in a huge glass or lead vase for three days and fed on the blood of its mother. After a week, one version of the spell requires you to smear it in a mixture of surprisingly not-foul medicines (possibly while chanting “it puts the lotion on its skin”, because look at what you’ve become) and inter it back in the vase for forty days, after which it will emerge as a one-legged man.
Who, presumably, hates you… which is fine, because you’re going to do horrible, horrible things to him.
The creature isn’t as much use alive as dead, and some of the magical powers you get from its corpse require you to outright torture the poor beast (or rather, to torture it some more). If you feed it milk and blood for a month, then cut its intestines out while alive, you can produce an ointment that will allow you to teleport anywhere on earth instantly. If you decapitate the poor thing, you can make a potion that will turn a man into a sheep if he drinks it, or an ape if he anoints himself. If you make an ointment from its brain and eyes, you can use it to see spirits.
I could go on.
Okay… what? WHY?!?
In actuality, most of the Liber Vaccae is fairly normal for a book of magic from its time. The book is divided into two sections, Major and Minor, with sections on fairly ordinary magical topics: sewing seeds with extraordinary qualities; making candles, lights and oils with magical properties; an ointment to cure short-sightedness; magical inks, and lanterns that show entertaining illusions.
Even in these spells, there’s a little weirdness: the minor section contains a spell to make a woman fart uncontrollably, and another to make someone think that his body was enormous, and that black men are trying to kill him (there’s another spell to summon a black man with a stick… I have no idea why).
Alright, so when I said ordinary, I was lying.
For the love of God, there’s a spell to create a mini-cow with the face of a man, wings and bird claws. Bull brains have to be mixed with human blood, then put in a vessel in the ground, where they evolve like a horrific Pokemon – first into a snake with horns and huge eyes, then ‘bee-like worms’, then a fish with a human face. Finally, the mixture becomes the cow, which you decapitate, and make its fat into an ointment that can turn someone into either a pig or an ape.
Again, there are some normal-ish spells. The Liber Vaccae has rituals to create rain, make plants grow in an hour and trees to bend over; it has experiments to make armies and giants appear in the sky.
There’s just a lot of weird stuff.
Who the Hell Would Do This!?!?
Researcher David Pingtree has shown that the Liber Vaccae probably dates to the late ninth century, translated and adapted from another text, although only fragments of the Arabic versions survive. It seems as if, for all its oddness, the LV is a fairly influential text: there are references to it in iconic magical books like the Picatrix. Although, the version referenced is likely a Latin translation created in twelfth century Spain, and, like a great many magical books, versions are attributed to famous philosopher/scientists such as Galen and Plato, including versions where the volume title has been changed to Vacca Platonis.
The LV sits as a sort of strange, organic counterpart to the Astral magic found in the Picatrix. While the Picatrix is largely based upon harnessing the natural Astrological properties of various substances, inscribing them to optimise their powers and then using incantations to activate the latent energy, the Liber Vaccae is largely concerned with its own rather fringe ideas about the miscibility of the soul and the transmissibility of magical energies. A huge part of the sexualised violence in the text represents the violence of conception and birth, creating a series of conceptions and artificial wombs that provoke creatures to evolve to the point where their soul energy can be harvested and used to give the sorcerer godlike powers.
There are ten surviving manuscripts of the LV, making it a significant Medieval magical book, with one copy being listed in the magical library of St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. Unsurprisingly, surviving copies are often heavily censored, with whole sections being cut out (and, being honest, I don’t entirely blame them). Whether or not the experiments were ever tried, we cannot know: records from various artisans around the Canterbury area show that some magical amulets were forged, and an interestingly Goetic/Byzantine ring sits in a cabinet at the local museum, but as yet records refuse to yield information of huge glass or lead amphorae, or whether the monks gathered at night to bukkake an abomination.