Review – Magic and Masculinity: Ritual Magic and Gender in the Early Modern Era

Apparently it’s cheaper to order Frances Timber’s Magic and Masculinity from a seller in England than it is to purchase it here.

I was glad to hear that this book was coming out, as the question of how English ritual magic during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reflected the broader historic and societal aspects of the period is one that is of much interest.  In particular, I was looking forward to a book that might take some of the threads from Frank Klaassen’s article “Learning and Masculinity in Manuscripts of Ritual Magic of the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance” and develop them.

Instead, what we have here is a book that leaps through multiple topics, never focusing for long on any particular one.  We have a chapter on ceremonial magic, true, and one on its interaction with societal ideals of masculinity therein.  One of the immediate difficulties is that Timbers looks to one model of masculinity from the period:  that of the merchant who was the head of a household of family and servants.  If you’ve read even the list of the spirits from the Goetia, you know that these needs and the procedures in these magical texts – learning the trivium and the magical properties of nature, invisibility, causing love of women, treasure hunting, etc. – don’t really seem to match up, at least not directly.  (To turn to a different milieu, I’d say that The Long-Lost Friend is a better example of a text for a successful head of the household.)

After this initial examination, each chapter presents a different aspect of contemporary spirituality – Freemasonry, John Dee’s scrying experiments, spells involving fairies, the visions of the minister John Pordage, the magical experiments of Goodwin Wharton, and others.  As the list reveals, some of these are interesting aspects of ritual magic, while others have a questionable overlap therewith.  The discussion of different rituals involving fairies taking their cues from gender differences is an interesting one, as is the discussion of Edward Kelley’s construction of masculine identity by using the comparatively passive role of a medium.  Sadly, the length of these chapters allows for little development or elaboration on any of these themes.

For those intrigued by the above, Timbers’ book is one that might be sought out through your local libraries.  I’m not sure I’d suggest making the plunge to purchase it without having viewed a copy.  Some will find it useful, whether as an examination of these issues in a particular area of inquiry, or as an introduction to the role of gender in sixteenth and seventeenth-century British magic.

Published in: on July 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sort-of Review: The Bull of Heaven

It’s been nearly a year, and I recalled I hadn’t given props to a fellow Starwood author to whom I had the privilege of meeting last year.  As such, I’d like to enthusiastically recommend Michael Lloyd’s book Bull of Heaven:  The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan, available from Lulu.

I am not ashamed to say I have not read this entire book.  It’s huge – over 600 pages long – and as such I use it more as a reference for particular details of the New York City occult scene.  Because, when you get down to it, this book is much more than a biography of the founder of the Minoan Brotherhood, the pioneering gay pagan group based on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern mythology and practice.  It is perhaps the first book to go beyond biography, or the history of an order, to describe an entire milieu, in this case that of occultism in New York City from the mid-Sixties to the late Eighties.  Lloyd has done painstaking research into many different aspects of the scene, based on contemporary documents and interviews with many of the participants, rigorously documenting as he goes.  Some aspects are covered more thoroughly than others, of course, but that’s the nature of the beast.

There’s an additional twist here, as you can guess.  Ed Buczynski’s long-time partner was Herman Slater, the owner of the Magickal Childe Bookshop.  As such, we get a good amount of material on Simon and the Necronomicon.  There’s even a section on The Necronomicon Files where he calls us out on an error, which I intend to blog about soon.  All of this is quite illuminating, and it takes our examination of the topic out of the realm of “Harms and Gonce vs. Simon” and sheds new light on the old debate.

As such, I can enthusiastically recommend The Bull of Heaven for those who are interested in a wide variety of topics:  the history of witchcraft, the LGBT movement, Necronomicon practitioners and skeptics, and just about anyoneelse who could come near any of those categories.   It’s really that good.

Published in: on July 5, 2014 at 4:48 pm  Comments (3)  

Charm Wands and Charm Sticks: The Final Chapter?

In our last two installments, we’ve followed the trail of the curious glass poles called charm wands or charm sticks.  Why have we not seen any reference to the use of these before the twentieth century?

To find out more, I asked at the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass.  The research librarian helpfully sent me some  articles on the topic, including an especially interesting one by G. Bernard Hughes from Country Life magazine from 1970.

According to Hughes, these curious shepherd’s crooks first appeared in the 1770s as part of a fashion fad, possibly inspired by ceremonial maces.  They saw a resurgence in the 1820s, and they continued to be known throughout the nineteenth century.  The first clue that we have as to their use as “charm sticks” is in Soames’ Curiosities of Literature, from 1847, dealing with superstitious practices in Devon.  Given the lack of an online edition of that book, I’ll quote from the revised edition of 1849:

But the most curious of their general superstitions is that of the Glass Rod, which they set up in their houses and wipe clean every morning, under the idea that all diseases from malaria, as well as other contagious maladies will gather about the rod innoxiously. It  is twisted, in the form of  a walking stick, and is from four to eight feet long. They  can seldom be persuaded to sell it, and if it gets broken they augur that misfortune will ere long befall some one in the cottage where it has been set up.

Hughes also adds that these devices were likely too involved to be made in a glassmaker’s spare time, especially due to their long hours.

At this point, it seems that the glass rods were originally created as fashion accessories, which later became associated with disease and good luck, and later became explicitly connected with spirits.  Nonetheless, if you find another explanation, I’d really like to hear it.

Published in: on June 21, 2014 at 10:54 pm  Comments (3)  

More on Charm Sticks and Charm Wands

After my last post, I wanted to put up another item or two on charm wands that I came across.  The first reference is from Radford and Radford’s Encyclopedia of Superstitions:


Glass wands, shaped like a walking-stick with a curved handle and having hair lines in the glass, or rods filled with a multitude of small coloured seeds, are now sometimes seen in houses where they are kept as curios or ornaments.  Formerly, however, they were hung up as a protection against witchcraft and evil spirits.  It was believed that any entering demon or witch would be forced to count the lines or seeds during the hours of darkness, and would be prevented, while doing so, from enchanting or injuring any person or thing in the house.  Disease and infections were similarly supposed to fly to the wand and to be held there.  In the morning, the evil influences could be harmlessly wiped away with a cloth.

If such a charm-wand was accidentally broken, the omen was bad, and illness or misfortune of some kind was expected to follow.

Next, we have a passage in Nigel Pennick’s Secrets of East Anglian Magic, 2nd edition:

Looking like a glass walking-stick, containing spirals of coloured glass threads, the charm wand was once more than just a collectable curio… The master glassmakers who created them by hand produced magically empowered artifacts with the express function of warding off airborne illness.  The proper way to use a charm wand is to hang it up indoors as a protection against the entry of disease into the house.  To empower the wand, each morning it should be wiped vigorously with a dry cloth, charging it up to trap contagious particles in the air… Naturally, breaking one is an extremely bad omen, and ill is sure to follow.

Now, what you’ll notice about both these sources is how recent they are.  It’s troubling that I was unable to find any earlier sources.  Was I overlooking something?

I asked for some help on this question, and I’ll share what I found with you next time.




Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 10:46 pm  Comments (2)  

Charm Sticks and Charm Wands: A Little-Noted Item of Folklore

Over a year ago, I was kicking about the back roads of Cornwall for a few days.  Having had to revise my itinerary due to confusion about a car registration, I chose to take the bus out to Zennor to see the famous mermaid bench in its church (here’s the legend that surrounds it).   Not knowing what else to visit in Zennor, which is an incredibly small town, I chose to spent a pleasant hour in the Wayside Museum there, which includes a working mill and other relics of traditional life in Cornwall from various eras.  It was there that I saw the following curious item, hanging on a beam over the hearth in the kitchen display:

Charm stick, Wayside Museum, Zennor

Charm stick, Wayside Museum, Zennor

It’s hard to see from the position, but you can see the crook at one end on the left and follow the shaft over Here are the two captions underneath:

Charm Stick

Made of Bristol glass … was hung over the fireplace so that when the little devils came down the chimney at night, they settled on the stick to count the little bubbles and cracks.  In the morning they were wiped off with a rag and the rag burnt!

This stick is of Nailsea glass.  Items like this were often made by apprentices at the end of the day.  It would have been brought back to Cornwall on the ships that carried tin-ore to Bristol for smelting.

Of course, that was the sort of thing that got my attention.  Given all the other scrambling about attached to my trip, I wasn’t able to sit down and think about it until later.  I’ll post more about this in a subsequent entry.  In the meantime, if you’re not making it out to Zennor any time soon, you might take this short video tour.   I believe you can glimpse the end of the stick around the 8:30 mark:

Published in: on June 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm  Comments (3)  

Just Released (?) – The Book of Saint Cyprian

It’s always tricky announcing releases before they come out, but if I’ve timed this blog post right, you’ll be seeing it on the day that The Book of Saint Cyprian appears from Hadean Press.  Jake Stratton-Kent has the following to say about the book, another example of the occult texts attributed to Cyprian:

So what if anything does this book have to offer that is so different? Well for one thing it is a magnificent compendium of
Iberian folk magic; containing a wealth of authentic ‘Cyprianic’ lore from this important and under appreciated part of the ‘Western tradition’. This covers a great many otherwise unavailable source works; ably translated into English, mostly for the first time.

The commentary follows these source texts, and is utterly invaluable. The material is put in context, and in many cases enlarged upon in a way most useful to magicians and interested readers alike.

Given transatlantic postage rates, I’ve put off ordering from Hadean for a while, but I think it’s time that I put in a request for this work, the second Conjure Codex, and a few other pamphlets.

Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: The Testament of Cyprian the Mage

Recently I’ve been reading through the final offering in Jake Stratton-Kent’s “Encyclopedia Goetica” series, The Testament of Cyprian the Mage.  This work follows the True Grimoire (review here and here) and Geosophia (review and response).

This book moves the focus from the previous works on the Grimorium Verum and the Greek mythological and ritual tradition, moving to Iberia, the Americas, and the Middle East.   Stratton-Kent is seeking to move magical practice away from the dualistic model present in much ritual magic from the medieval period in which one calls upon God and the angels to compel demons.  Instead, he examines working with traditions in which one petitions superior spirits of the same hierarchy for the same effects.

To accomplish this, JSK explores the contents of a Sufurino edition of the Testament of Cyprian, most likely dating to the 19th century.  Using the purported author as a spiritual link to the past, he takes us back to the time of the historical Saint Cyprian to examine the magical works that someone of his time and place might consult.  Thus, we have excursions into theurgy, the magical papyri, the Testament of Solomon, Hermetic image magic, and decans.  He also proceeds through the work by Cyprian chapter-by chapter, with a few lacunae where it overlaps with an upcoming work from Joe Peterson.  As he does so, he highlights various aspects of the spirits and procedures within that reflect the views mentioned above, drawing upon necromancy, fairy lore, the four kings present in some medieval magic works, elementals, and the Quimbanda tradition.

One element that is definitely in favor of this particular volume is the bibliography. JSK has picked an absolutely top-notch list of reputable sources to make his arguments.   I have some misgivings about their uses, however.  What the book presents is a grand synthesis of various works, theologies, and ideas, as has been done by individuals such as Levi and Mathers.  As such, someone who incorporates it into their magical practice might find it valuable and evocative, but others will be skeptical as to how far such disparate sources can be stretched.  The following passage near the end (volume 2, p. 197):

The syncretism of Kimbanda associates rusalkis with Pomba Gira Rainha das Almas (Pomba Gira of Souls)…  Lilith is frequently paired with Asmodeus and related figures.  So too the precedent of Exu Lucifer’s pairing with Exu Pomba Gira (Klepoth) implies a similar relationship between the Lucifer of the grimoires and Astaroth.  Sibylia’s equivalence with Lamia (explored in Geosophia) and with Lilith is also echoed in Kimbanda’s syncretism.  The equivalent of Lamia in Kimbanda is Pomba Gira Maria Quiteria, that of Lamashtu, Pomba Gira Rainha da Kalunga.

Your reaction to that passage indicates how you are likely to feel about the Testament.

I am also skeptical as to his overall claim that spirits in the same hierarchy are an older development than spirits in opposition.   I think what would really be required here is an examination of the Mesopotamian anti-demon incantations.  These might not display the dualistic aspect, but it nonetheless engages with how much the demons are agents of the gods or independent operators (sometimes yes, sometimes no), with some interesting variations, such as the curious relationship between Lamashtu and Pazuzu.  Such material would have been available to the Hebrews during the Babylonian activity, and a slight Mesopotamian influence on the magical papyri is also present.  As such, I think that perhaps uncertain relationships between demonic spirits and the celestial hierarchy might pre-date dualistic cosmology, and that this might be a worthy topic to examine.

And yet… even if I have some concerns I really like a number of aspects of this book.  JSK is engaging with a number of interesting topics, ranging from incantations that call upon infernal forces to books of image magic to analyses of the Testament of Solomon and the kings of the four directions.   Due to his desire to cover a vast range of topics, we never get too in-depth with any one of these, but the reader can be referred to the bibliography.  Also, he is absolutely correct in pointing out just how much MacGregor Mathers (and Crowley and Waite, to a lesser degree), are responsible for the popular understanding of the grimoires, and how much of a complex phenomenon these simplified approaches have glossed over.

Overall, the book is probably most valuable for those interested in exploring the themes in JSK’s other works further, or those who aren’t too familiar with occult literature beyond the grimoires found in their bookstore’s occult section.  Fortunately, I think the paperback and ebook options move the work much closer to an affordable range for readers.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm  Comments (1)  

Book of Oberon Cover

Book of Oberon Cover

The cover to The Book of Oberon – for sale next year!

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm  Comments (4)  

An Open Letter to Dan O’Brien

Dear Mr. O’Brien,

I have recently been informed about your DMCA takedown notice against the Prospero’s Price Kickstarter on the grounds that it infringes your right to market a book bringing together “The Tempest” and H. P. Lovecraft.  It is time to alert you to a serious breach of intellectual property.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a graphic novel series by the acclaimed author Alan Moore.  I could mention the number of Google hits, the coverage in prominent magazines, the reviews on Goodreads, and the movie adaptation in 2003 that featured Tom Sawyer so that U. S. audiences might be convinced to watch it (unsuccessfully), but really, you have a computer.

Beginning in Volume 2 (published 2002-3), Alan Moore incorporated a number of characters from “The Tempest” and Lovecraft into his series, and he continues to do so.   Out of all the thousands of characters, stories, and plays available from your sources, it can be no coincidence that you have picked characters from Mr. Moore’s work such as Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Cthulhu, and the Deep Ones.   You must agree that the latter is especially damning, given the lack of fiction written about Cthulhu or the Deep Ones.

Having brought this to your attention, I have no doubt that you will remove your book from circulation in accord with international copyright law.


Daniel Harms

P. S.  I do have to thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I am preparing for publication a book from 1580 featuring Oberion, King of the Fairies.  Upon researching your case, it has come to my attention that this “Shakespeare” character later published a play that incorporates one Oberon as King of the Fairies.  Rest assured that I will not rest until this scoundrel is forced to remove all of his infringing work from the Internet.

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars

A few weeks ago, I spent an oft-delayed yet pleasant afternoon and evening with Patrick Donmoyer.  Patrick is the site manager of Kutztown University’s Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, not to mention the translator of The Friend in Need, another charm book by Hohman which I’ve reviewed previously.  We spent most of our time viewing multiple impressive collections of magical books, talismans, and other magical items.  Before I left, I picked up the second book in the Center’s new series – Donmoyer’s own Hex Signs.

From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes.  The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present.  Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.

So, were hex signs intended to protect the barn magically, or were they decorations?  Donmoyer’s answer is that these have no apotropaic sorcerous qualities, as far as it relates to history.  The belief seems to come down to one researcher’s interview with a single unspecified Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, which no one since has been able to duplicate, and the term “hex signs” seems to have been a creation for outsiders.  Donmoyer goes on to document the progression of these symbols from stone keystones found in the sides of early barns, along with their parallels to barn decoration in the Old World, and the many variations of patterns throughout the region.

At the same time, however, hex signs are not merely decorative elements.  Within their bright colors and eye-catching whorls and points are elements of celestial and numerological significance.  Similar motifs turn up on decorations elsewhere, indicating that these symbols are expressions of important cosmological and spiritual practices among the Pennsylvania German.
Those interested in the occult are also in luck.  Even if magic cannot be found in the hex signs on the barn, it may yet lurk inside.  Within are walls covered with graffiti, including magical phrases on the walls, talismans tucked within the rafters, and drawings of the Elbedritsch, a mythical horned bird.  We are treated not only to descriptions, but pictures of these discoveries.

Finally, the book discusses those artists who have brought the hex sign into the present and seek to preserve these creations that tell so much about Pennsylvania history.  This is where magic re-enters, as the popular discourse about signs has had its effect on the attitudes and practices of those who design them today.

All of this is richly illustrated with copious photographs that highlight the author’s arguments.  In fact, my only criticism is that the book might be better served in a large coffee table format, which would allow us to view the signs on a larger scale.

Hex Signs is available through the Heritage Center, and is certainly worth it for those interested in folk art, folklore, or folk magic.


Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 10:09 am  Comments (4)  

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