My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 3

Last entry, I was driving around to Tintagel and the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall.  How was the rest of the day?

I had considered visiting St. Nectan’s Glen, a famous Cornish holy spring, but I couldn’t locate it on my GPS.  I had, however, seen a sign for it between Tintagel and Boscastle, so I backtracked to the spot.

St. Nectan’s Glen is not on the road – in fact, it turns out it’s about a mile off, down a country lane, between tall hedges overgrown with wildflowers, and onto a path that winds through the bottom of a wooded valley, alongside a whispering stream.  After about a mile, you come to a charming tea room with a deck where you can relax.  Then, after paying admission, you make your way down into the glen itself, coming out at a water fountain behind a quiet pool.

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Those who have come before have left offerings of clouties, small pieces of cloth tied around trees that represent wishes or desires for healing.   Originally, they were only features at the healing well at Madron, but they have been adopted as devotional elements at many other Cornish sites.

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It was a lovely experience, even though a little rain and more mud were less than ideal.

Having walked back, I decided to head to my last site of the day.  On the way, however, I came across the town of Camelford.  Just as Tintagel is believed to be the site of King Arthur’s conception, Camelford is, according to local legend, the site of the king’s final battle against Mordred.  I ran into the visitor center at the last minute before it closed, and they allowed me to walk along the trail to see the site.

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The site, known as Slaughterbridge, has a stone dating back to the sixth century, which is said to mark the fall of Arthur.  Later scholars have read it differently, but it’s there for anyone who wishes to see it:

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I drove for quite some distance afterward until I arrived at Minions – not the movie, the town on Bodmin Moor.  One notable feature of Cornwall is that sites that US parks would surround with guardrails and carefully-cropped lawns are filled with animals, like this sheep wandering across the parking lot.

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I was there to see the Hurlers, three small stone circles set north to south with a prominent causeway between them.  I like finding small megalithic sites, away from tourists, that I can explore.

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I also managed to find Rillaton Barrow, a nearby Bronze Age tomb, just by happening to wander across the moors.

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Here’s a view of the horizon, with the odd stone formation called the Cheesewring peeking out of that ridge.

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So, that was the first of two days with a car.  How could I get myself in trouble next?

Published in: on August 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: The False Hierarchy of Demons

Today’s offering is a relatively new offering from Abracax House – a translation of Johann Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, a list of demons taken from his work De praestigiis daemonum.  So, how does The False Hierarchy of Demons measure up?

For those who aren’t familiar with this, Weyer (1515-88) was a former pupil of Agrippa who set out to write against beliefs in the witch-hunts and false magicians.  This particular work is a compilation of spirits taken from a manuscript that he read.  His goal in publishing it was to reveal the falsity and fraud of the magicians of the time.  The list has a great deal of similarities to others in manuscript form, especially that which was eventually published as the magical manual the Goetia.

The book itself is quite beautiful, slipcased and bound in red and black, with plentiful color illustrations included.  Each entry for a spirit consists of the name of the entry, the Pseudomonarchia‘s text in the original Latin and English translation, any relevant illustration from the Dictionnaire infernale, and the seals from the Goetia (and possibly other works, although I haven’t looked at all of them).  All of this is quite attractive in presentation.

In my other reviews, I often say that I don’t feel confident enough in my grasp of other languages to critique a translation.  My Latin could always be better, but having taken a brief look at some entries, I can make specific comments on some usages.

The spirit Marbas answers questions “plene,” which is translated as “truly” when “fully” would be better.  Buer provides “optimos” familiars, translated as “good” instead of “the best.”  The term “praeses” is translated in one entry as “president” and another as “master.”  The entry for Gusion says he appears “in forma zenophali,” which the translator follows other readings in rendering “cynocephali.”  Nonetheless, she states that the literal translation is “wild man” or “baboon with a dog-face,” when it should actually be “dog-headed [one].”

I won’t have time to check through the book comprehensively.  Many readers won’t care about this sort of problem, but I’d suggest that any translated herein be double-checked before being quoted or used.

The English is also problematic at some points.  For example, the English sentences are sometimes missing a subject, when the Latin clearly contains one.  Sometimes articles are missing in the sentences as well.  None of these obscures the meaning, I should hasten to add.

Also, it should be noted that the spirit seals are not present in the Pseudomonarchia, which might not be entirely clear from the introdcution.

If you’re looking for an impressive looking book for your bookshelf, this work certainly fits the bill.  The text itself is not bad, but it might have benefited from the same meticulous attention that was put into the rest of the project.

 

Published in: on August 11, 2016 at 1:51 pm  Comments (1)  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 2

On the second day of my trip, I went to the railroad station in Truro and picked up a nice little blue Audi and drove off.

US people often wonder whether driving on the left in the UK is difficult.  I didn’t think so.  Of course, if you’re tooling around country roads between Cornish hedges, there’s often little or no difference between the left and right sides of the road.  It turns out that my chief problem was believing all the speed limit signs were in kilometers and not miles.  I think this was highly annoying to people on the highway, but once I got off the main roads, it wasn’t bad.  There seems to be a reluctance to tool about in Cornwall, some of which is cultural and some the price of gas, so no one was following me for long enough to be bothered.

I decided to do a northeast coast run on my first day, so my first stop was Tintagel, the medieval fortress and supposed location where King Arthur was conceived.  It’s an impressive site, especially if you’re up for a scramble or two up and down the sides of hills.  There’s not much left of the castle at all, but the views more than make up for it:

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Here’s a shot after climbing the cliff into the castle proper:

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You can’t see Merlin’s Cave, the tunnel that runs through the head of the peninsula, save at low tide.  I hadn’t checked the tides beforehand, but I managed to luck out.

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I didn’t cover the whole site, because I had a more important goal:  the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic at Boscastle, where I wanted to view a few books in their small but excellent library.  In particular, I wanted to view their photocopy of Lenciewicz’s manuscript that we published in Oberon, to see if the earlier reproduction was in better shape.  (It wasn’t, but I did get a reading or two out of it.)  The staff was quite helpful in getting me set up and helping to guide me around the collection (Dewey system, for any curious librarians), as was Tom the Dalmatian.  After that, I partook of the museum collection, of which I’d heard a great deal over the years.

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A shelf of magical ingredients!

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A reconstructed cunning woman’s hut.

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Is this Austin Osman Spare’s scrying crystal?

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Here I am, massive-humidity hair and all, with the museum’s famous goat mask.

At the museum’s small gift shop, I stopped to pick up a few books, most notably Mark Norman’s Black Dog Folklore and Cassandra Latham-Jones’ Village Witch.

…and now I’ve realized this post is far too long without getting into the rest of the day, so I’ll cut it off here.

 

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:40 pm  Comments (2)  

My English / Cornish Adventure, Part 1

I’ve been silent for a while, last post aside, because I’ve been over in the UK for a glorious two-and-a-half weeks.  I’ll give you some of the highlights.

The trip out was grueling.  I was stuck at the Newark airport due to a spectacular lightning storm, and I ended up missing my connecting flight through Toronto to London.  So, after a long wait in Newark and some excellent work by Air Canada and United staff, I eventually got on a direct flight and ended up in London… twenty minutes later than I’d planned.

I spent the rest of the day getting acclimated and wandering around London, making quick visits to Treadwell’s and Atlantis Books.  I picked up a few little pamphlets on earth mysteries at Atlantis, while Treadwell’s brought me a copy of Abracax’s translation of the Dictionnaire Infernale, in two massive volumes that I was not certain would make it back through in a suitcase.  (It did, as it turned out.)

The next day, I headed out to Cornwall, staying at a bed and breakfast in St. Austell.  I’ve been to West Penwith twice, but I wanted to rent a car this time and see more sites in the east of Cornwall. I didn’t have the car until the following day, so I resolved to see a couple of local sites.  The most prominent of these was the Eden Project.

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The Project is a large botanical garden featuring plants from all over the world.  We have two major biomes here, one featuring rain forest plants, and the other a Mediterranean setting.  Between them and the visitor center, filling a large valley, are a wide variety of plants, arranged into particular gardens by geography or purpose.  And then you have a zipline so that people can fly past the whole thing while screaming.

I did not take the zipline.  Instead, I wandered through the biomes and the gardens, taking in the sights.  The Project likes to also bring in various aspects of human interaction with the environment, whether from today’s or past societies.  For example, there’s a nice attempt to tie Mediterranean culture into the myths regarding Bacchus and his troupe:

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This was accompanied by, um, fake rabbit heads on stakes, which was certainly different.

IMG_3100If you’re particularly brave, you can even climb up on a rickety metal platform over the rain forest and gaze down on everything.

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I picked up a good number of small, cheap folklore books (my present collecting impulse) at the gift shop and headed back to St. Austell.

I decided to see the sights of the town itself.  As my bed and breakfast hostess pointed out, the chief tourist attraction is Charlestown, which has replicas of sailing ships where many movies are shot.  But who would want to see that when they could visit the Mengue Stone instead?  That’s excitement!

IMG_3194For all of its unprepossessing appearance, the Stone was once the center of St. Austell life.  It stood at the center of town as a site for proclamations and sales. Legend has it that witches were even burnt here!  (That’s probably not true, as is much of the Cornish lore about witch hunts, unfortunately.)

I managed to find a nice Gurkha restaurant nestled away on a back street, and I filled my belly, went back to the B&B, and prepared for the drive the next day.  Yes, I would be driving through Cornwall!

 

Published in: on August 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm  Comments (2)  

Review: Doctor Johannes Faust’s Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis

You might recall an article from a month ago in which I discussed the appearance of the first translation of the classic Faust-attributed grimoire  Magia naturalis et innaturalis, translated by Nicolás Álvarez Ortiz and published by Enodia Press.  I had some trepidation about ordering from them – apparently the Mexican post office is not as diligent about updating its tracking notices as it could be – but I now have both a print and electronic copy of the book.  So, what do we have?

What we have here is an English translation of the German book, along with a brief introduction, some notes, and numerous full-color illustrations collected at the end.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book, it serves primarily as a collection of incantations and pacts for spirits of various orders and elements to fulfill the will of the magician.  They range from grand princes of hell such as Marbuel and Aciel, to sets of seven spirits corresponding to all manner of social statuses, from counts to peasants to fools, to pygmies. A large number of full color illustrations portray these beings, along with the seals necessary to compel them.  These are conducted for various purposes, ranging from fast travel via flying coat to bringing birds and flowers to the magician, but the foremost would seem to be the discovery of buried treasure.  There’s a great deal in here that should be of interest to many readers of ritual magic.

Álvarez’s translation seems well done to me, being coherent and legible.  Even though I quibble at some points with his word choices, I’ve been able to see where he was coming from.  Perhaps those more conversant with German will have different views, however.

In terms of a scholarly apparatus,  Álvarez does provide some notes to define particular concepts, Biblical passages, and notable figures, as well as transcriptions of the wording in the color plates.  We do not have the German text, although that is readily available online.  Key elements missing are any table of contents, beyond the most rudimentary, or an index.  This makes finding any particular section of the book an unnecessary exercise in paging through over 150 pages.

The introduction is notable, although it does sometimes combine very old sources and up-to-date ones in ways that make it unclear why some topics merited more work than others.  (One innocent mistake seems to be the usage of a nineteenth-century German scholar to discuss Jewish culture, when there are more recent studies of the origin of the demonic pact.)

I should also make some notes about the presentation.  The layout is cramped, with little space between lines and sections.  The font in my copy was considerably faded in some places, not enough to be illegible, but certainly enough to make for difficult reading.

If you’re a grimoire completist, I’d say this is definitely for you.  It’s in a limited edition of 100 copies, if that helps you make a choice about whether you want to deal with the Mexican post office.  Frankly, what I’d really like to see is the next edition of this book, which – I hope – will include a more detailed table of contents, index, and reformatted layout.  The book as it stands is both fine and important, but I think those changes would make it into a top priority for many interested in ritual magic.

 

Published in: on July 27, 2016 at 2:05 pm  Comments (1)  

The Offerings from Editions du Monolithe

One of my friends posted some pics of books from Editions du Monolithe on Facebook, and it intrigued me enough to check them out.  I ordered three books from them.  They had some trouble with PayPal ordering, but they managed to work that out and even sent me a fourth book for my troubles.

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So, what do we have here?  We have four slim paperbacks in French that serve as translations or transcriptions of various grimoires.  They’re largely no-frills productions with not a lot of explanatory text, although those based on manuscripts tend to reprint facsimiles of these documents in context.

First, we have the Verus Jesuitarum Libellus, or the “True Little Book of the Jesuits,” as transcribed by the nineteenth-century occultist Frederick G. Irwin, whose Book of Magic was recently released by Caduceus.  This work is mentioned in Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic, and the original can be found at the Cleveland Public Library.

We also have another two works formerly at the Arsenal Library, and now at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.  The first includes the text of Arsenal MS. 2345, a work on talismans of planetary magic, which shows parallels between the diagrams and other manuscripts.  The second was Arsenal MS. 2494, which was released by Caduceus Books as The Grimoire to Conjure the Spirit of the Place.

My favorite, however, is their edition of the Magia Ordinis.  This is a magical work that appears attributed to various authors – Michael Scot, Kornreuther, Herpentil – back to the sixteenth century.  This one gives us not only the text, but a stunning full-color reproduction of an illustrated manuscript of the work, apparently from a private collection.  It’s a nice addition to my library.

This might seem to be a source of limited usefulness to my readers who aren’t able to read French, but it might help to fill in some gaps in the collections of more avid grimoire readers.

 

 

Published in: on July 19, 2016 at 12:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Faust’s Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis – In Translation

The news is that a new English translation of Faust’s Magia naturalis et innaturalis has just been released.  I have spoken before of the desire for such a release, so I’m quite happy about this.

The publisher is Enodia Press, a new outfit operating out of Mexico, and they are offering a copy of a softcover book with numerous full-color illustrations.

I do have some qualms here, one of which is that my order has been apparently sitting at a Mexican post office for almost a week if my tracking information is correct, but I offer it for your consideration.

UPDATE:  AncientHistory has told me that about a week may be a typical amount of time for a package to wait for inspection, so we’ll see if that’s the case.

Published in: on June 21, 2016 at 8:51 pm  Comments (3)  

Baron’s Back

A while ago, in my discussion of various dictionairies of spirits, I used one particular entity – Baron – as one of my entities.  Due to him showing up at the trial of Gilles de Rais, in The Book of Oberon, and at a number of other sources outside the usual Waite-inspired list of grimoires, I thought he’d be a good example.

As it turns out, this was more fortuitous than I thought.  Baron has been showing up more in different sources that I’m consulting.  One of the most recent is the account of the interrogation of Pierre, a teacher of the Waldensian sect of heretics, conducted at Oulx, near Turin, in 1492.  Within his account of the synagogues, or the secret meetings, of the sect, he had the following to say:

Asked why the said synagogue is held, he replies that it derives from the fact that they as a custom were in the habit of adoring a certain idol called Bacchus and Baron and also the Sibyl and the fairies and that Baron and the fairies were accustomed to holding congregations during which there was no respect between daughter and father, nor with the godmother, as there is, however, outside the said synagogue.

Now, this bears some comments.  First, the last part regarding the congregations is a fairly common set of accusations against heretics.  Second, what is described does not seem to be a standard part of Waldensian belief, and the piece above it doesn’t seem to be noted anywhere else.  Third, it’s fairly safe to say that the Waldensians hanging out with the pagan Sibyl, a bunch of fairies, and an idol known either as Baron or Bacchus was not the sort of words that inquisitors would seek to put in the mouth of a captive.

Then, what is its significance?  There are a number of possible explanations.  I think it could attest to a certain collection of lore that might have been available orally,  speaking of spiritual entities that might be found in local beliefs but that avoided the official record.  There’s no means to be sure based simply upon one account, but it might be something worth seeking for future scholars.

Audisio, Gabriel. Preachers by Night : The Waldensian Barbes (15th-16th Centuries). 118. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
Tourn, Giorgio. Il barba : una figura valdese del Quattrocento. Torino: Claudiana, 2001.
Published in: on June 3, 2016 at 2:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Recent (Or Not So Much) Releases

I’m happy to announce that we’ve had a couple of important grimoire releases that – in what may come as a shock to Papers readers – I have not actually found the time to read.

First, there’s Joe Peterson’s edition of the Liber Iuratus, or the Sworn Book of Honorius , the high medieval book of magic which features as its centerpiece a mystical procedure to gain a vision of god.  For those who were wondering if it expands upon the version on Peterson’s website – yes, it certainly does, with much material going beyond what’s on the website.  For those who wonder if the Latin is translated, the work has parallel Latin and English texts, which is definitely more than I expected.  I’m making a slow go of it – long segments of voces magicae have that effect – but any review I write would be simply, “This is wonderful,” so I don’t really feel compelled to expand upon that.

Another item that’s been out for longer is Claire Fanger and Nicholas Watson’s critical edition of John of Morigny’s Liber florum celestis doctrine:  The Flowers of Heavenly Teaching.  This is the fourteenth-century monk’s reinterpretation of the Ars Notoria, which in turn is the most complex version of the “God, please get me through this test!” prayer ever  created.  Although the price tag and the Latin text might scare off potential purchasers, it is a comprehensive and scholarly work and another step on the path to make critical editions of many key magical texts available.

That also reminds me that Claire Fanger’s book-length commentary, Rewriting Magic:  An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk, was released well before that last book.  It deals with her own encounters and explorations with the book, as well as with the figure of John of Morigny.  It also makes it clear that we have much to learn about the Liber florum – especially with regard to the diagrams omitted from all the known copies.  As with other PSU books, there’s a cheaper e-book option that curious but cost-conscious consumers could consider.

Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 1:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Review: The Magical Adventures of Mary Parish

I was asked to review the new book from Frances Timbers, The Magical Adventures of Mary Parish: The Occult World of Seventeenth-Century London for another publication.   Given the space provided, I couldn’t cover the book to the extent that I’d wish, so I want to continue that discussion here.

To bring everyone up to speed, Mary Parish was a seventeenth-century cunning woman engaged in the usual activities of that profession – detecting thieves, healing maladies, and hunting treasure.  Despite her talent at her vocation, Parish would have sunk into obscurity save for her meeting a former (and future) member of Parliament and the disreputable scion of a noble line – Goodwin Wharton.  Wharton became her patron, then her friend, and then her lover.  According to Mary, this was a fruitful union, yielding over a hundred pregnancies, although Goodwin would only meet one of his children.

Their partnership, both professional and personal, was based upon a series of spiritual encounters with ghosts, fairies, demons, and angels.  Parish served as a medium, and Wharton rarely witnessed anything without her present, save for a series of divine visions that happened later in his career.   He was a careful chronicler nonetheless, writing over half a million words on his spiritual encounters that he could pass on to his first-born – and likely imaginary – son, Peregrine.

As you can tell, this situation poses some problems for anyone who wants to write about Mary Parish’s life.  Almost everything we know about her is filtered through the writings of Goodwin Wharton.  Given that Mary seems to have been fabricating and exaggerating to some extent, and that Wharton might not have been the most objective observer of the situation, we have serious problems for any biographer.  The first attempt was made by J. Kent Clark in his biography Goodwin Wharton, and next, over thirty years later, is Timbers’ book.

It’s difficult to be able for me to talk about this book, for a few different reasons.  First, I feel it’s unfair because I have not read Wharton’s length treatises on the topic.  Second, there’s a great deal that I agree with in the presentation of this book.  The troubling aspects of her approach are the nuanced ones, and part of that might come from my perspectives on dealing with people who are not entirely on the up-and-up.  Mary Parish certainly wasn’t.  Even an account written by the man who loved her  couldn’t make her appear that way.

Timbers and I both agree that Mary Parish’s story, which is questionable not just for its supernatural arguments but also for its frequent oscillations between great fortune and misfortune, may be treated as narrative.  The bulk of the book, however, does not take this approach, instead concentrating upon the historical basis and context for the incidents she discusses.  This approach can be insightful, but if not combined with reminders that it is based on a second-hand narrative or extensive footnotes, it can lead the reader to conclude that much of it is validated, when in fact we have no one’s word but Mary’s that much of it occurred.

This is particularly a shame because I feel there’s a great book lurking here that does deal with the narrative of Mary Parish – an intelligent, independent, and resourceful woman living at a time when such women had to find creative ways to work within a patriarchal system.  Mary’s tale of her life, with its powerful men, mysterious magic, and numerous phantasmal pregnancies, seems to take many concerns of Elizabethan women, especially those of the lower classes, and exaggerates them to what would be a parody if not for the pathos lurking behind them.  That’s a book that I am unequipped to write, but I would love to read.

I would also argue against Timbers’ key assertion – which is also partially held by Clark – that this arrangement was a beneficial one because it gave Wharton a positive worldview and led to his reconciliation with his father.  I think it is quite likely that genuine affection did spring up between Mary and Goodwin.  Nonetheless, I find it hard to argue that a belief system that kept Goodwin impoverished and isolated from society, spending weeks waiting in the middle of nowhere for the Queen of Fairies, or commissioning a ship to sail out based on technologies promised by angels who failed to deliver in the middle of the ocean, was not a serious detriment to his physical, financial, and emotional health.  I do think it did have its good aspects, but these should be noted along with the problematic ones.

Overall, I think Timbers’ book does provide some interesting and thoughtful insights into Parish’s life and times.  One key piece of information, for example, is that multiple simultaneous pregnancies were not beyond the bounds of seventeenth-century medical thought.  Nonetheless, I would encourage anyone who wishes to read it to start with Clark’s book, which concentrates more on the substance of the diary, before beginning The Magical Adventures.

 

 

 

Published in: on May 12, 2016 at 2:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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