The (in)famous bindrune

Throughout his life, Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor insisted that the contract or “witch’s seal” shown below appeared in the front papers of Acts of the Servant and its sequels. Following MacGregor’s death in 1869, his publishers sought to distance themselves from magick (in keeping with public mood of the time) and omitted the seal from subsequent editions. In recent years, magick has enjoyed a renaissance and, as the Anniversary Edition attempts to recreate Acts of the Servant as MacGregor originally intended, the seal will once more take pride of place at the head of the book.

The (In)famous Bindrune

The design consists of two connected circles. The larger of the two, the Circus major concerns the person upon whom the charm is laid and the central motif of an interlaced rune of the six letters H E L E N A indicates this was Lady MacGregor. The smaller circle, the Circus minores relates to the petitioner, in this case Tamburlaine MacGregor whose name appears in runic script in the lower left hand corner, though why his middle name is missing is a mystery. The Circus major calls up protection from the five elements, earth, air, fire, water and ice, while the Circus minores is concerned with time – the keen-eyed will note the twelve months and the phases of the moon shown within – and ensures the protection operates in perpetuity and without interruption. The bindrunes drawn above MacGregor’s name and repeated in the Circus major all refer to health and wellbeing, with an emphasis on fertility and childbirth.

The seal’s origins are unknown. Graphologists agree it is not MacGregor’s own work and experts in magickal contracts suggest it is typical of work produced by the ‘booth scryers’ or fortune-tellers that frequented the Old Town district of 1850s Edenborough. A similar design appears on the back of a tavern bill found among MacGregor’s papers at the Royal College of Edenborough in 1963. The bill is printed with the name ‘White Hart, 12b, Grimmer Street’, followed by a handwritten list of monies and the date 23rd January 1859, however, licensing records of the time show no establishment of that name nor on contemporary town plans do we find a Grimmer Street![1]

Much has been made of this discrepancy yet, in the editor’s opinion, the answer lies in the turbulent nature of the Old Town district of Edenborough in the 1850s. At that date, Old Town had fallen on hard times and street names changed frequently after abandonment or collapse of property or had false names created in an attempt to confuse and avoid the bailiff, rendering the official records incomplete and unreliable. If we have this in mind, there is no need to suppose, as some have, that Grimmer Street and The White Hart was a glamour[2] into which MacGregor wandered!

A good impression of the district may be got from chapter nine of Acts of the Servant when Paavo Jukola visits a tavern in one of the seedier parts of Old Town.

“Known as ‘closes’, these alleyways riddled the Old-Town. More like chasms in the earth than things made by man, Paavo had only ventured among them once and sworn never again. Piss-puddled and stinking of every foul thing, he had found his way almost barred by debris of material, animal and human kind: collapsed and part-collapsed walls; all forms of creature with four legs and two (and three by misadventure), including milch-cows and horses where no grass grew, loitering dogs and squealing swine, loafers, idlers, knife-sharpeners, pudding-faced drunkards and painted whores and above all this filth, from jetties, open windows, and ropes bridging the narrow sky, more sail than the loftiest barkentine. White linens, tartan shawls, shifts, shirts and flannel petticoats drawn in the air as though the good women of the close, despairing of their lot, had hoisted all sail in an effort to be gone. An effort only foiled by the wind’s refusal to taint itself on these noisome depths.”

The tavern bill is dated 23rd January 1859, the same day MacGregor handed his publisher the corrected proofs for Lays of Brigadoon, and it follows that MacGregor had the bindrune drawn up after Lady MacGregor told him she was pregnant with their first child. This strongly suggests that MacGregor’s concern was not whether Lady MacGregor would provide him with children, but her health and well-being during pregnancy and childbirth. Given the tragic death of MacGregor’s first wife it is no surprise he should fear history repeating itself. The dragon and circular mark beneath MacGregor’s name are the token of the scryer who drew up the seal, however the licensing records for scryers are notoriously unreliable and the individual cannot be identified, but something of her may be discerned in MacGregor’s description of the booth scryer Jukola meets shortly after leaving the tavern.

“He saw the curtain twitch and moved closer. A hand held the edge of the cloth and a face watched him from the darkness within.

Inside, he sat down on a stool and ringed fingers lit a candle. The flame revealed a woman. A scarf covered her hair and a veil concealed half her face. Her eyelids were darkened with some stain or paint. He was disappointed. It was something a whore would wear to pretty herself up and he wondered what lay behind the veil. He could not see enough to tell her age but her hands were smooth and plump.

A table separated them, its brass top engraved with symbols of the moon and planets and other signs. The candle gave off a scent. For a moment, it was elusive, shifting between warm meadow and sun-baked herbs before settling on pine resin.

‘The cards is it?’

A tarot pack sat on the table. A card with a naked man and woman entwined in each other’s arms lay uppermost.

‘—or is it palms.’ The woman spread her hand out, as though weighing something.

He shook his head. ‘Runestones.’ He recalled what Gabriel Stone had said.

‘The Elder Way.’ The woman reached to a drawer beneath the table.

‘Runes it is,’ she said and pulled out a cloth bag. Opening it, she reached in and sifted the contents. He could hear the things inside clicking over each other. Drawing out her hand, she scattered nine pale stones across the table and let out an audible gasp of surprise. Whether this utterance was feigned or real, Paavo could not tell.”

We know from other sources that the typical price paid for magickal contracts of similar quality was in excess of 500 crowns; a considerable sum equivalent to a year’s wages for a senior clerk in our time. Rumours of more sinister forms of payment, blood, body parts or human sacrifice were fuelled by the established churches in their campaign against the practise of magick and few now take the claims seriously. It is true that medical records from Edenborough’s hospitals and morgues show a considerable trade in body parts, but the culprits were unscrupulous medical students rather than booth scryers.

The meaning of the bind rune at the centre of the Circus minores is less clear. In the editor’s opinion it is a request for strength and vitality, however a few scholars, particularly in  the American Republic, claim it is a concealment or fidelis guarantor protecting the petitioner (i.e. MacGregor) from revelations that might bring ignominy or disgrace. This interpretation, coupled with MacGregor’s failure to leave us an account of how he obtained the seal and his insistence it be the frontispiece to Acts of the Servant and its sequels, has allowed Mr van Zelden, among others, to argue (and generate considerable publicity for himself) that MacGregor did not simply purchase the seal but entered into a pact with its creator.

This is a serious allegation. Although Pact Seals are much more powerful than ordinary seals they come at a heavy price. Entering into a pact with a scryer or indeed with any practitioner of magick places the petitioner directly in their power. Provided he or she continues to accede to the demands of the pact seal, its protection continues; however, should at any time the petitioner be either unable or unwilling to comply, then the protection turns upon whomever it was intended to protect. In essence, had MacGregor entered into such a pact it would have held his wife’s life to ransom in perpetuity, or until such time as he was able to make a final settlement of the debt.

Needless to say, despite a great deal of effort, ingenuity, and dubious scholarship by Mr van Zelden and his acolytes, there is no evidence of any such arrangement in MacGregor’s surviving correspondence, his journals or in the personal reminiscences of his friends and acquaintances. In your editor’s view, the allegations are unfounded and deeply damaging to MacGregor’s reputation and he strongly advises the reader to disregard them.


[1] The writer acknowledges his debt to the ‘Chronicles of Auld Reekie’ by Louis S Roberstone, pub. Muirhead and Co, 1894 and ‘The Wizard of the North’ by Ramsay Scott, pub. Edenborough University Press, 1977.

[2] Glamour in this instance refers to a form of enchantment or illusion. Examples include turning water into wine, leaves into gold, and pumpkins into carriages. Its modern usage whereby the ugly are made passable and plain pass as beautiful is a corruption of the older meaning.

Return to the Magick of Acts of the Servant


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