The Mystery of all Mysteries

How the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses influenced a generation of occult beliefs in Illinois.

Successive waves of European immigration left their imprint on the Prairie State, from the French and their Afro-Caribbean slaves in the 1700s, to the Scotch-Irish and Anglo-American Southerners in the early 1800s, Germans in the 1840s and ‘50s, and the great urban flood of southern and eastern Europeans in the 1880s and ‘90s. These immigrants brought their folk beliefs with them, including beliefs in witchcraft and the occult.

Anglo-American settlement first came to Illinois after George Rogers Clark claimed the Illinois Country for Virginia during the Revolutionary War. The earliest American settlers were Southerners who came up from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. Yankees and German immigrants followed close behind.

These Germans were known as “Forty-Eighters,” having fled central Europe after the failed liberal revolutions of 1848. In 1850, 81.1 percent of Illinois’ foreign born males came from Germany, Ireland, and England. Immigrants also continued to arrive from the east coast. In 1850, 67,180 New Yorkers and 24,756 Virginians moved into Illinois. Yankees from New England spread out across the Midwest, settling Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. These immigrants tended to settle land passed over by earlier pioneers, particularly western and northeastern Illinois.[1]

As these nineteenth century migrations occurred, occult beliefs and literature from the “Old World” continued to have an impact on the United States. In Stuttgart, Germany in 1849, Johann Scheible published a multivolume set of magical and occult texts from around the world called Geheimniß- und Offenbarungs-Bücher und der Wunder-Hausschatz-Literatur aller Nationen in allen ihren Raritäten und Kuriositäten (1849), or Secret and Revelatory Books and the Wonder-House Treasure Literature of all Nations in its Rarities and Curiosities.

Volume Six was titled Das sechste und siebente Buch Mosis, das ist: Mosis magische Geisterkunst, das Geheimniß aller Geheimnisse, or Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, that is: Moses Magical Spirits Art, the Secret of all Secrets.

Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses purported to be Biblical apocrypha containing spells, incantations, and seals used by Moses and ancient Israelite and Egyptian magicians to control spirits and perform miracles found in the Old Testament. In 1865, a New York publisher reprinted the original German text and it spread to German-American communities across the United States, including Illinois. An 1880 English translation made the book available to the general public.

Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses was influential on witch beliefs in Illinois, and those who possessed it were thought to have access to its occult power. One anonymous German-American interviewed by Folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt in Adams County, Illinois in the early 1930s warned of its powers.

“A boy read the Seventh Book of Moses and he bewitched the next door neighbor and she got real sick,” he or she explained. “This boy went over to see if he could help her, and they would not let him do anything. This woman died that night because they would not let him take the spell off after he had put it on her.”[2]

In a story titled “The Dried Foot-Print,” told by a woman from Belleville, Illinois and recorded by Charles Neely, a man who owned the “Sixth and Seventh Books of Genesis” discovered a thief by drying the man’s footprint, which caused him to become sick. He let the man go after he promised never to steal again.[3] The appearance of this text in folklore accounts from western and southwestern Illinois demonstrates how it helped strengthen and perpetuate magical beliefs in that region.

Occult author and publisher Lauron William de Laurence (1868-1936) published a paperback English translation of Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses in 1910. De Laurence, Scott & Co., De Laurence’s publishing company and spiritual supply mail order house, was located in Chicago, Illinois and was influential in providing reprinted and original magical and occult texts to customers across the United States. Like recipes in cookbooks passed down from immigrant parents to their children, Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses purported to pass on Old World esoteric knowledge to new generations.

To read more about the history of witchcraft in Illinois, check out my book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com


 [1] Douglas K. Meyer, “Foreign Immigrants in Illinois, 1850,” Illinois History Teacher 5 (1998): 18; Thomas D. Clark, Frontier America: The Story of the Westward Movement (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959, 1969), 301.

[2] Harry Middleton Hyatt, Folk-Lore from Adams County, Illinois (New York: Memoirs of the Alma Egan Hyatt Foundation, 1935), 471.

[3] Charles Neely, Tales and Songs of Southern Illinois (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1938, 1998), 106.

Advertisements

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.