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Testing Spells, Charms and Divinations from The Book of Forbidden Knowledge

Originally published at some unspecified time in the 1910s, The Book of Forbidden Knowledge by “Johnson Smith & Co” compiles “black magic, superstition, charms, and divination” throughout the ages. Some of the spells and superstitions are described in terms of fact, and others are described as silly things that science now tells us is false. Piercing a bat’s wing, according to the book, will make the piercer invisible: this is stated as fact. But they talked about how ridiculous those who believe in the evil eye are, which is weird and inconsistently toned. I do not know how they determined what to take seriously, so I thought I would humour this scientific higmah-ground and test out some of the claims within the book. 

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First, the day of the week I was born (Saturday), and my birthdate (May 20th) are both apparently considered unlucky. It said that it was unlucky “to those persons being males,” which does not apply to me, but I also tend to ignore the gender and sex differences that the book enforces, so I must take this into account anyway, for consistency’s sake. So, accordingly, I am most likely to suffer from illness, “pecuniary embarrassment and losses of property but will also experience great distress and anxiety of mind, much dissatisfaction, dissension, and unhappiness in their family affairs… and a variety of untoward events of other descriptions which our limits do not allow us to particularize.” Now, I definitely have many anxieties that plague my mind, bad allergies, a tendency to get badly ill, I am seldom satisfied, I am cripplingly lonely and I often have issues regarding loss of my possessions. The other half states that the unlucky birthdays indicate “an extraordinary itch for speculation, to make changes in their affairs commence new undertakings of various kinds,” which is said in this section to lead to the unluckiness with financial affairs. Now, I am not like that at all, I am a money saver and I budget obsessively. For these reasons, I consider this divination mostly true, but not completely accurate. 

For anybody that’s curious, the unlucky dates are January 3, 4; February 6, 7, 12, 13, 19, 20; March 5, 6, 12; May 12, 13, 20, 21, 26, 27; June 1, 2, 9, 10, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24; July 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17; October 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 31; November 1; and 3 for “males.” For “females”—whose unluckiness is described in terms of marriage instead of finances—it is claimed to be January 5, 6, 13, 14, 20, 21; February 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 22, 23; March 1, 2, 6, 9, 16, 17, 28, 29; April 24, 26, May 1, 2, 9, 17, 22, 29, 30; June 5, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19; July 3, 4; September 9, 16; October 20, 27; November 9, 10, 21, 29, 30; December 6, 14 and 21. For those, like myself, who include all of these dates regardless of gender or sex, this looks like every date. But in fact, the lucky dates—which are for some reason unisex despite the unlucky dates being separated—are claimed to be January 1, 2, 15, 26, 27, 28; February 11, 21, 25; March 10, 24, April 6, 15, 16, 20, 28; May 3, 13, 18, 31; June 10, 11, 15, 22, 25; July 9, 14, 15; August 6, 7, 10, 11, 19, 20, 25; September 4, 8, 9, 17, 18, 23; October 3, 7, 16; November 5, 14, 22; and December 14, 15, 19, 22, 23, 25. The lucky birthday characteristics are essentially the opposite of the unluckiness of the two unlucky horoscopes combined. 

Second, the book states that a person’s future could be predicted by the anagram of their full name plus title. Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, is an anagram for “No, Appear Not On Elba.” I tried this with my own name, Alicia Suzanne Drevdahl, and had a difficult time even while using a few cheats like spelling based on sound. I came up with “Craved An All-Sized Hina.” I had to look up if “Hina” was a real word, and it is apparently the name given to multiple Polynesian goddesses who all have something to do with eels. This trick requires much hindsight, but I must conclude that my fate must have something to do with craving something eel related. I hope somebody will be there to report any updates on whether this is my fate. For now, inconclusive results.

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Third, it says that seeing a black cat is lucky and killing one is unlucky, so I have no choice but to agree as somebody who has been blessed by the sight of a black cat. 

Fourth, the most interesting situation to me was from “How to Make Persons at a Distance Think of You.” During a time in which the spell-caster knows the other person to be in a calm state, when they are not thinking about too much—such as before bed or during meditation—the caster should envision themselves sent into the thoughts of the other person. To enhance the spell, one presses their hands together. The spell will not work if the other person is drunk or under the influence in some way. I tried this one at two in the morning, holding onto it for a minute. Then, one minute after I stopped holding my hands together, I got a text from the person I was testing it on linking me to a TikTok, which implied that they thought of me while scrolling. I was shaken up, especially since I did not know why that TikTok would make anybody think of me. I was able to repeat this one another time as I told a friend of my plans and promptly informed me when a thought of me spontaneously arose. 

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There are a few that say how to mend a wound which are all very weird and/or outdated. I do not think it is necessary to fill a cut with human bone, for example, since we now have bandages. There were also a few that show one’s future husband within their dreams, but one spell would require grave robbing, while another would only require a notebook and a flower; both leading to the same result. Another said how to determine if somebody is a witch, but this is a spell book. I chose not to test any spells or charms like these.

In conclusion, I do believe there is something to quite a few of these, while many others were just confident yet baseless claims. I overall disagree with the book’s intellectual high ground over particular magic, charms, divinations and superstitions, while not giving the same treatment to all of them. 

I'm a third year International Studies Major and Literary Journalism Minor at UCI. I love filmmaking, reading, playing guitar, and writing. I like to be involved in activism-- like voter turnout and volunteer work-- within Orange County.
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