An English Excursion, Part 6, Plus That Little Part in Wales I Didn’t Mention Before Now

Sunday was a special day, as I met up with the wonderful Ben Fernee of Caduceus Books for some exploration of Bristol and points north. On a previous trip to Glastonbury, my intent to reach Bristol had been thwarted due to engine trouble, and I was intent on making it there to view some scenes from the aptly-named book of stories by Raphael, Tales of the Horrible.

It nearly didn’t happen. My phone hadn’t decently charged in the car beforehand, and when Ben picked me up, we realized his GPS was also low on charge. We had nothing we could do – save that I had a backup battery for my phone. That would only last so long, and the phone kept shutting down due to excessive heat – but between that and some old-fashioned map-reading, we managed to get where we needed to go.

Back to Tales of the Horrible. Raphael mentions a tremendous cliff on top of the deep gorge that runs past Bristol, which was formerly the home of a holy hermit – or a giant, depending on what story you read. A few years after he wrote the book, an old mill on the site had an observatory and camera obscura built, and passages to the nigh-inaccessible cave were blasted through the rock. Now the whole place is a pleasant park where you can get ice cream.

View of Bristol Suspension Bridge

In the tale, a desperate nobleman goes to consult a wizard who dwells by himself in a cave opposite the cliff. Bristol is known for its many caves nearby, but the presence of a skylight mentioned in Raphael’s story narrowed my search considerably. The cave was accessible down an overgrown path between luxury apartments and the cliff. We soon found dire signs warning us to turn back, but we pressed on nonetheless, to the Necromancer’s Cave!

Necromancer's Cave

… which was surprisingly cozy. The necromancer was apparently out, so we left.

To follow Raphael’s story, the Necromancer and the desperate noblemen alighted upon a dangerous course, traveling to the churchyard of Abbot’s Leigh church, where they called up the spirit Birto, a dragon, and his hordes of zombies. There were few signs of the aftermath at the church.

Abbots Leigh Church

We had one other stop to make, and to do so, we traveled across the Severn to Wales, my first visit to that ancient land! Well, mainly we were lost and going the wrong direction, but we figured out where to go, and soon we were speeding upriver to the temple of Nodens. That’s right, Mythos fans who read this far, Nodens is an actual Romano-Celtic deity, and his temple is on the estate at Lydney, which is open on occasional days in warmer weather.

Lydney Estate

We walked up the hill and were able to view the temple of Nodens, where the ill slept in hopes of the god’s healing.

Temple of Nodens at Lydney

We attended the small museum below, which had many artifacts from the temple – including the famous Dog of Lydney and a curse tablet! – and then got cream tea in the house’s garden while gazing off at the Severn Valley. A lovely end to the day!

Museum at Lydney - The Dog of Nodens

I mean, if you discount the drive back to Bristol Parkway, realized that a train had been canceled due to the new GWR schedule starting that day, and I said hasty goodbyes to Ben before sprinting for the track.

I enjoyed my trip, and I hope I get to return soon.

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Published in: on September 17, 2018 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Skinner and Rankine’s A Cunning Man’s Grimoire

Golden Hoard has put out many books of great utility to all of us interested in early modern works of magic. This one represents a return of both Stephen Skinner and David Rankine as co-editors, the first such effort since The Grimoire of St. Cyprian in 2009. You can pick up cloth editions or leather-bound ones straight from the publisher.

What sets A Cunning Man’s Grimoire apart from previous releases is its excursion into the realm of the magical miscellany, texts which contain a wide variety of different operations and pieces of information, rather than a unified magical system. It’s an area that should be familiar with those who’ve read the Book of Oberon, but it’s a departure for Golden Hoard.

What’s even more interesting about the book is that Skinner and Rankine’s introduction indicates they’re not certain how the book will be received by their audience, both in terms of the organization and the large number of Christian prayers that constitute it. I’m not sure why that would be the case, but both of them are much more tuned into the magical community – and probably more patient – than I am. Suffice to say that anyone who raises issues about a seventeenth-century magical miscellany being disorganized and Christian needs to learn more about such works.

There’s some uncertainty about the origin of the book. There’s some discussion at the beginning about whether Thomas Allen (1540-1632), a tutor from Oxford’s Gloucester Hall. (He’s also a likely owner of the book I just finished for Llewellyn.) I think we might have some confusion here between two different Allens, as dates written in the manuscript are all decades after his death, but this might bear more investigation.

The bulk of the book is a wide-ranging collection of material, rendered in the original spelling. We have collections of experiments dedicated to summoning spirits, sections on astrological timing, tables of planetary angels, spells for fighting animals and theft, and workings for the mansions of the moon. All of this is illustrated with diagrams from the original text, and supplemented further with footnotes, a short index, and a lengthy bibliography.

At times we also see brief commentaries from the copyist on some rites, especially the spirit conjurations, including those of Birto, Askariel, and the three horsemen. He seems to be of two minds about it – keen on reproducing the rituals, but seeming concerned about whether they are appropriate for a holy individual.  This, to me, is the most interesting material, as it reveals the motivations of at least one author who wrote in the genre.

Thus, if you’re interested in magical miscellanies, or early modern astrological magic, or charms and similar topics, you’ll enjoy this book. Check it out.

 

 

 

Published in: on September 6, 2018 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  

My English Excursion, Part 5

After my previous adventures (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), it was refreshing to spend some time on my own looking at manuscripts.

On some days, I walked over to the British Library early to get into the queue that, by 9:30, stretches across the plaza. I’d head up to the manuscripts room, sit down with my four manuscripts for the day, and work my way through the relevant sections. After I hit the four, I’d be cut off as if I was at a bar, and I’d wander down the road to the Wellcome Institute to peruse their collection.

People aren’t permitted to take pictures in the Reading Room, and if you want to see a reproduction of a manuscript page, you have to fill out this form. I did find a quintessentially British sign in the commissary:

Hot Water Sign

I’ll cut the difference and publish this photo of the cover of Sloane MS. 3826, to give you a taste of what the experience is like:

Sloane 3826 Cover

On other days, I hopped on a train or bus to Oxford, where I visited the Bodleian Library to see their collection. These were long days, but I did get occasional opportunities to see a street fair, or to visit Worcester College, former site of Gloucester Hall, to find the home of Thomas Allen (who I’ve mentioned earlier), with no success.

Worcester College

It’s hard to talk about a typical day, though, because there were so many atypical ones. For example, one day I went to the Society of Antiquaries of London, which you can see here:

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There was also the day I was trying to get cream tea, to try to redeem my ridiculous cream-team related failure in Cornwall that will never been known, and I ended up getting high tea at King’s Cross instead:

High Tea at King's Cross

Apparently some people have wine with high tea. So, wine with tea. No, I don’t get it.

There was the night at Treadwell’s in which I gave everyone a preview of my upcoming Folklore article, with some additional commentary. It was wonderful, as are all my trips to Cornwall.

Yet… there was one trip left to take…

Published in: on August 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – Joe Peterson’s Secrets of Solomon: A Witch’s Handbook from the Trial Records of the Venetian Inquisition

Secrets SolomonJoe Peterson’s new book, Secrets of Solomon, is now out and attracting some attention. If you’d like to purchase it, it’s available through Amazon in paperback and through Lulu in hardback. I ended up buying both – the hardback for my shelf, and the paperback for marking up and carrying around where it can get beat up. I don’t usually make that sort of purchase unless I want to make sure I’m engaging with the text as much as possible, which this work definitely deserves.

Secrets of Solomon is a composite work, in which Joe has painstakingly correlated and compiled several different manuscripts to make a central work. The most complete of these was a manuscript taken from two men tried by the Venetian Inquisition in 1636, but he also covers six other manuscripts, including one from the collection of Gerald Gardner (which seems to have arrived too late to impact his writings on Wicca).

The work itself can be broken down into four parts, which I would briefly describe as follows:

  1.  A precursor of the Grimorium Verum, providing interesting variants on the spirit lists and procedures therein. It begins with three chief spirits, who are aided by a panoply of lesser beings who may also be called upon. Fans of Jake Stratton-Kent’s work will be interested to hear that the book defines these as chthonic and possibly infernal spirit, as opposed to those of the air and fire. It also provides a series of short operations connected with the spirit list, to be performed after one has made an agreement with the spirits, which seems to have been replaced in GV with a miscellaney of experiments.
  2. The spirits of the celestial spheres and the elements are described here, who are served by entities known as the “Amalthai.” We have a long series of instructions for approaching the greater spirits through ritual, along with a set of talismans to be employed toward various ends after the initial content is made.
  3. A work describing operations to deal with the various spirits of the days of the week. This derives from the Heptameron, but delves much more into the powers of individual angels and spirits than that work.
  4. An explanation of creating a “stone,” or clay image, for success in magic, with further notes on various magical techniques taken from pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.

I’ll comment on the implications of this list in my conclusion. The book also has a number of different items of interest: magical words that are actually just misunderstood English, separate instructions for a particular magical experiment based on the sex of the operator, a demon that kills Americans by slapping them with its nose, etc.

One item that deserves mention is the presence in the second section of spirits known as the “Amalthai.” Peterson proposes that this might be a reference to the mythological Greek goat or nymph Amalthea, who nursed Zeus after Rhea hid him away from Kronos. There does appear to be a linguistic similarity between the names, but there’s no other clear link between these spirits and the mythological figure. Perhaps a future manuscript discovery will clarify these issues.

As you can expect from Joe Peterson, all of this is tied together with a thorough introduction, copious footnotes, a list of manuscripts, a comprehensive bibliography, and multiple indices. The only potential omission would be notes for the first section that illustrated the ties to Verum more closely. If you’re interested in that connection, you’ll probably want to keep both books on hand for reference.

I would like to attach one caveat to the book: it’s not the end (or beginning) of the story. If you read my description of the four parts above, you might be wondering how these sections fit together. Simply put, they don’t; the original compiler put them in one work without trying to write connections. What this means is that these works – which date back to the mid-seventeenth century – were likely transmitted on their own for quite some time before being collected.  Thus, Joe’s book is wonderful, but I hope it serves as the springboard for future revelations that will continue to challenge our knowledge of early modern books of magic.

Published in: on July 28, 2018 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  

My English Excursion, Part 4

(Parts 1, 2, and 3)

The next day was our final day with the car, so we made that our day of visiting various sites in West Penwith. We began with visiting the Merry Maidens stone circle, a pleasant little circle just off the main road, before braving the back roads to the Iron Age village Carn Euny. It’s a site of one of Cornwall’s famous underground tunnels called fogous, and one can’t say a trip to Cornwall is complete without a fogou.

I’d never been to Carn Euny before, and we eventually involved ourselves in a complicated turn-around of the car on a muddy turnout to a field – after which we walked down the road, rounded a bend, and came upon the parking area for Carn Euny. A quick walk through the fields brought us to the fogou:

Carn Euny with Mysterious Individual

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I happened down a nearby trail to Saint Euny’s well, a famous site nearby known for its healing properties, now cordoned off behind a gate:

Gate to St. Euny's Well

We made an attempt for another famous healing well at Madron, but we couldn’t find the road to it. Fortunately, West Penwith is quite small in proportion to its large number of interesting sites, so it took little time to return to Penzance, have lunch, re-orient, and return to find the famous well. This is the sole one in Cornwall in which the practice of leaving clooties in the nearby branches can be proven to have ancient antecedents.

Madron Holy Well

Next, we went to the famous and mysterious holed stone of Mên-an-Tol. While there, I attempted to find a nearby fairy well. I believe I did – or, at least, I became overly familiar with the boggy, bramble-laden area in which it lies. I nearly lost a boot there, and C—– watched me thrash around with a mixture of amusement and concern.

Men an Tol

We had one final stop for the day: St. Ives, at which I desired to climb the hill that leads up to the chapel of St. Nicholas. I had seen it one stormy day during a bus stop at St. Ives, and I had resolved that I would ascend on my next trip. I did not entirely realize that this would mean driving slowly through streets crowded with holiday goers. Nonetheless, once we reached the car park at the hill’s base, it was easy enough to make it to the top and finally attain the chapel.

St Nicholas Chapel, St. Ives

We returned to Penzance, and my parents and I left C—— to visit his favorite local watering hole as we had dinner on Quay Road, looking out at the ocean. On our way back, I noticed how close we were to the neighboring town of Newlyn. Newlyn was known in Cornish folklore for its fishermen’s former belief in the Bucca Dhu, a dangerous spirit who lived at the Tolcarne, a rocky outcrop above the town. It was not so far away – so why not make the attempt? I left my parents behind and walked down the shore to Newlyn, where I soon found myself in the right place.

Tolcarne Terrace, Newlyn

If creepy street names were any indication, I was in the right place.

Creeping Lane, Newlyn

Where might I find the outcrop? Was it further up the hill? Or was it down this curious and well-kept path leading to the cliff?

Path to Tolcarne, Newlyn

Indeed, the latter was the case.

Tolcarne, Newlyn

We shall not speak of what happened at that perilous site, but I was able to escape the wrath of the Bucca Dhu largely unscathed.

That was definitely enough for three days, so it was with some relief that we arose the next morning and took our trains back. My companions headed back to the States, and I… well, it was time to trade the physically grueling part of the trip for the intellectual challenges ahead.

Published in: on July 21, 2018 at 8:16 pm  Comments (1)  

My English Excursion, Part 3

(Part 1 and Part 2)

The next day saw my parents, C—–, and I repair to Boscastle, to visit the Dew of Heaven conference at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. My attendance was an odd coincidence; I’d simply contacted the museum when I knew I was in the area, and they asked me if I wanted to speak. I did, but I didn’t want to cut too far into my family’s vacation. Thus, my parents dropped off C—– and I at the Wellington Hotel and made their way off to parts unknown, telling me they would return for my talk.

They didn’t, which was somewhat disconcerting, given that Boscastle is a cellphone dead zone. The hotel graciously allowed me to phone them – but it turns out they were also out of reception!

Dan Harms Presentation on William Dawson Bellhouse

Nonetheless, my talk on the galvanist and cunning man William Dawson Bellhouse was very well-received. If you want to hear it for yourself, check it out on the Folklore Podcast. I also had good conversations with Jake Stratton-Kent, David Rankine, and Christina Oakley-Harrington. Many thanks to Judith, Peter, and everyone at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic for putting on this conference.

Eventually my parents showed up and told me that they had forgotten that I was speaking. So it goes.

I also had a great chat with Heather Freeman (UNC-Charlotte), who is filming Familiar Shapes, a documentary dealing with early modern beliefs in familiar spirits. I was able to provide her with some data relating to magical manuscripts and how it might relate to the witch trials, along with a picture from the weird 1665 edition of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft depicting a demon-haunted volcano.

I’d have liked to stay more, but I wanted to leave before it got dark. I made a quick run through the museum itself, for the requisite Black Philip selfie, after which we all piled into the car and headed back to Penzance.

Dan Harms, Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Black Philip

Next time – megaliths, fairies, and saints!

Published in: on July 14, 2018 at 8:01 am  Comments (2)  

Review – Speculum Terrae: A Magical Earth-Mirror from the 17th Century

I’m sure most readers are familiar with the use of mirrors in magical operations to speak with spirits – but how common was such practice? We may never know the answer, but Frater Acher has given us a special opportunity to examine one of these items – albeit second-hand – through a new publication from Hadean Press, who were nice enough to send me a review copy.

The book is tiny in size but rich in content. While researching Cyprian, Frater Acher found an Erdspiegel (“Earth-Mirror”) in the archives of Michelstadt, Germany. These mirrors, used for treasure-hunting, consisted of a pane of glass, one or more sheets of paper with magical seals, a thin layer of dirt, and a container for the whole. Not only had the mirror survived for three hundred years, it had been the subject of an article in the Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde by Professor Richard Wünsch in 1904.

After the introduction, Frater Acher provides us with a translation of the good professor’s article, which not only discusses the particular mirror, but also the lore surrounding these devices dating back to Babylonian times. We then move to an examination of the object that has come down to present times, along with the four magical seals that populate it. Acher attempts to place the diagrams and words on these in the context of other magical works, a difficult task given the unique nature of some of the elements. He does manage to trace one of the designs back to a seventeenth-century Rosicrucian treatise, thus providing an example of how that mystical philosophy might have impacted magical praxis.

Acher ends the book with a brief treatise on the significance of earth in folklore, especially of the Germanic variety. A comprehensive bibliography follows. The book has no index, but it is short enough that this is no real detriment.

One question remains unanswered: the paper seal provided in the Wünsch article does not match up with the ones found in the surviving mirror in the archives. Acher hypothesizes that it might have been lost in the interim – yet the professor does not note the presence of the other four paper discs. Further, Wünsch’s article states the box that contains the paper and glass is leather, but the one in the archives is paper. Are we dealing with two separate objects?

This is a small but excellent work that will appeal to those who are interested in magic mirrors and magical treasure-hunting, or who seek a chthonic model of divination for their personal practice.

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 11:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

My English Excursion, Part 2

We left off in our travelogue with a member of our party vanishing on Bodmin Moor. The rest of us decided to go back to the car and eat pasties, until I ventured forth again – only to be called back by C—–, who had ventured back to the road and thence to our car park.

With the group once again complete, we departed to fulfill my mother’s request to see a stately manor house. Thus, we braved the rain to walk to the manor of Lanhydrock. My mother wished to visit the home of a prominent family, and I had come to see the place for which the infamous John Tregeagle – described at different points as a man, a ghost, a giant, and a big bird – was known.

(What – you think I actually took pictures of the house itself? Do you take me for someone who takes consistent vacation photos? Fine – here’s a shot of the kitchen.)

Lanhydrock Kitchen

Sadly, Tregeagle had left no trace in the manor. To find out anything, I knocked on the door of the archive, and the nice people therein were willing to give me a potted background of the man.

John Tregagle Biography

We were moving rapidly through the building, until we were delayed by a glorious library, one of the county’s largest theological collections of the time. The books could not be taken off the shelf and the organization was uncertain, but a quick scan did turn up Wierus’ De praestigiis daemonum and a few minor works by Agrippa. There was also a work devoted to remedies written by a past owner, but I was unable to access it.

A former owner's notebook and Wierus

Agrippa Works at Lanhydrock

Satisfied and thoroughly damp, we made our way back to Penzance.

Next time – magic in Boscastle, and another curious disappearance!

Published in: on July 3, 2018 at 7:31 pm  Comments (2)  

Forthcoming – The Secrets of Solomon: A Witch’s Handbook from the Trial Records of the Venetian Inquisition (Peterson)

Let’s lead with the link, because I’m sure some of you read the words “Solomon,” “witch,” “Inquisition,” and “Peterson,” and already want to buy it.

For those who still need to be sold…

This grimoire, or handbook of magic, was confiscated by the Venetian Inquisition in 1636 from practicing witches. After decades of searching for this elusive text, I now have the pleasure of presenting and translating it here for the first time. It contains their secret techniques for dealing with the more dangerous spirits or daemons, intentionally scattered and hidden within a collection of “secrets” comprising many detailed examples. Together these provide enough clues to enable practitioners to create their own spells for working with all the spirits cataloged. It distinguishes itself as a supplement to the better known Clavicula Salomonis (“Key of Solomon”); whereas that text focuses on aerial spirits, this one focuses on chthonic spirits. This text is one of the primary original sources for the popular Grimorium Verum.

I think that should do it for everyone else, but just in case… did I mention it’s only $19?

Published in: on June 29, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Review – Edward Poeton: The Winnowing of White Witchcraft

While at Treadwell’s on my UK trip, I picked up Cunning Folk: An Introductory Bibliography, which is out of date but still fascinating. One key work mentioned within was a work by the early seventeenth physician Edward Poeton, “The Winnowing of White Witchcraft,” which only existed in manuscript form in Sloane 1954. I was trying to figure out whether I should spend time at the British Library tracking it down, and I was happy to see that Poeton’s work had just been published by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. The book doesn’t even seem to have made its way to Amazon, but fortunately one of my local libraries came through for me on a copy of this important primary source on early modern cunning folk, their practices, and the arguments for and against their practices.

First, a few caveats. Winnowing is a thin paperback, and the price point of $45 is more than I’d be willing to spend. Even though this work is of direct use in my research, I’m really on the fence about whether I should purchase it. Further, the bulk of the text replicates the spelling of the original. This is fine for two of the speakers, but the third…

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Poeton’s Winnowing is an unpublished treatise on the cunning folk.  As with many such works at the time, it is written in the form of a dialogue, in which a wise and knowledgeable teacher instructs a student in error who is nonetheless willing to ask questions and learn. In Winnowing, we have three parties: a clergyman with a doctorate in divinity, a physician, and the country squire who has been promoting cunning folk. The first two are intelligible, but Poeton has placed the squire’s words in a bizarrely spelled depiction of a local dialect which is quite difficult for modern readers.

The arguments that the doctor and the physician use are somewhat lacking, but what should interest today’s readers are the perspectives they take, illustrative of contemporary attitudes, and some of the details they give. We do get the names and/or locations of particular cunning folk active at the time, for instance. There are also one or two tidbits on interesting folk and magical practices I haven’t run into elsewhere, such as the carving of crosses into trees around a field to drive off fairies, or that spirits called up by a magician with a hazel wand should kiss that wand, extended beyond the circle (similar to the table ritual in Oberon which involves a fairy kissing a scepter).

Simon Davies, the editor, does a fine job in providing the background for the book and some initial notes on cunning folk practice at the time. He also provides numerous footnotes for the text itself, a list of Biblical references, an index, and a bibliography to supplement it.

I did like this book, but I think the price point, language, and focus – not to mention the present distribution method – will keep it out of the reach of many readers, which is a shame. Nonetheless, if you’re researching seventeenth-century magic or the historical nature of cunning folk, this is worth tracking down.

Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment