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The Independent is reporting that one of the most comprehensive collections of rare and ancient books on magic (both stage conjuring and ‘magick’) may be under threat:

The Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, based at the University of London, is the UK’s largest of its kind and contains letters between Price and the legendary illusionist Houdini. It also has detailed correspondence between Price and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a believer in the paranormal. Titles such as The Hammer of Witches, a 1486 treatise on witchcraft, are among its 13,000 items, which include pamphlets and hand-pressed books as well as photographs.

The collection is under threat after the university’s grant for its specialist library was slashed by more than 60 per cent by the Higher Education Funding Council. The £1m cut means the library could cease to exist.

Harry Price was a famous researcher in the 1930s and 1940s, who investigated psychics, hauntings and other occult matters. His investigations, and results, suggest a true scientist – he debunked with ferocity, but also had a number of positive findings. Of the infamous ‘Brocken Experiment‘, he said:

Although our principal object in staging the Bloksberg Tryst was to ridicule the idea that magic ritual, under modern conditions, is still potent, we are not so foolish as to imagine that we have entirely succeeded: superstition is not so easily killed as that! But the experiment was worth reproducing, as the investigation of such things is perfectly legitimate when carried out in a scientific manner; and I consider that the result of our test has advanced us a stage in our knowledge of ancient magic ritual.

The scoffer will tell us that because we had no faith, the experiment was not conclusive; in other words, that the formula will not work automatically. That is all very well, but what sort of a state do we have to induce in order that the magical metamorphosis shall take place? The fifteenth-century scribe who compiled the Black Book says of the Brocken miracle: ‘This have I witnesseth myself.’ But in my opinion the old man had worked himself into such a condition of ecstatic enthusiasm that he was really in a state of auto-hypnosis or self-induced trance, and when he ‘saw’ the goat change into the ‘faire youth’ it was merely an hallucination. I think he wrote out the formula in good faith.

The above passage suggests that not only was Price committed to scientific investigation of strange subjects, but also that he was contemplating ritual magick as a mode of reaching altered states of consciousness – something which debunkers don’t normally understand.

Being a conjurer himself, he was familiar with the techniques of stage magic, and so was more than able to spot psychic fakes. However, he was a controversial figure, and the first impression of him being a true scientist may be off the mark – instead, many felt his prime motivation was publicity. So skeptics claimed his positive findings were simply an effort to make headlines…and funnily enough, debunked psychics claimed the exact same thing when he cried hoax.

A great resource for learning more about the career and investigations of Harry Price is HarryPrice.co.uk. You can find out more about the Harry Price Collection at the University of London website.