And while it’s hard to imagine one small subject having that much of an impact on the mental state of a person, the story of Peter Lias highlights a belief that was all too common for centuries: some books were more powerful than others. And when taken too far, the results could be deadly.
Episode 151 of the Lore podcast hooks the listener from the first minute, with a graphic recounting of a 1916 axe murder in Pennsylvania. Host Aaron Mahnke’s narrative, though, centers not on grim, naturalistic violence, but rather on magical grimoires. Ever informative, Mahnke goes beyond the generic sense of the grimoire as a book of spells (or as required reading material for aspiring demon-raisers). Variously stocked with charms, instructions (e.g., on getting rich; on improving one’s love life), and recipes, such a book served as “a household reference guide for when life got difficult.” This is not to say that Mahnke works to demystify grimoires; throughout the episode, he traces how these volumes gained their reputation as powerful and valuable works of writing. One traditional method for building the allure of grimoires in the eyes of common folk (the majority of whom would not even be able to read texts written in Latin) was to attribute legendary authorship to the writings, which included the crediting of a couple of famous Biblical figures.
My main critique is that I wish Mahnke had done more to connect the subject of grimoires with pop culture. To be fair, he does invoke the Harry Potter series (in describing Toledo, Spain–an ancient hotbed of sorcerous activity–as the Hogwarts of its day) and The Da Vinci Code. But it’s hard to believe that not even passing mention is made here of the most notorious fictional tome of all: H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. A minor quibble, perhaps, and one that does not ruin what is overall a strong installment. Ultimately, “By the Book” is an easy episode for listeners to invest interest in.