I’ve been accepted as a presenter at the Scientiae: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern conference at Oxford in July. My presentation will be an expansion of my talk at the Esoteric Book Conference, just with the scholarship being more overt, and covering more ground.
When I say “more ground,” I mean comprehensively surveying as many of the known manuscripts dealing with fairy magic as possible. There are brief references in various scholarly works, so I’ve been striving to follow up on as many as possible. Fortunately, acquiring digital copies of books is quite easy; the staff at the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian have been most helpful, as has Joe Peterson. In case you’re wondering, scans of the microfilm are usually under $100, although you still have to deal with Latin passages, early modern script, and messy handwriting. After all this, I have retrieved over a dozen magical manuscripts to which I’ve found references.
So far, I can say the following:
First, my hypothesis stated at the Esoteric Book Conference – that magic that involves fairies, or similar spirits, has some traits different from the calls to demons or other spirits – seems to be borne out so far. Crudely put, the magician’s approach seems to assume more equality, whether through words or ritual actions that mime those between humans, than the exorcist conjurations of demons via divine dominance, and more likely to incorporate aspects of the landscape as important elements. I hope my language above indicates that this is more of a continuum than a division; many rites, especially those devoted to Oberion, are much closer to the exorcistic model, for instance. I’m still transcribing, so I hope there’s more interesting material to come.
Second, by sheer luck the selection of The Book of Oberon for publication has made the largest discovered collection of early modern rituals aimed to invoke the Fair Folk available. This does not mean that is comprehensive, as I’m finding many other examples, but it’s turned out to be a great source.
I’ve also been reading up on the scholarly literature on fairies. I’m enjoying Diane Purkiss’ At the Bottom of the Garden (apparently out of print, but also available under the title Troublesome Things) and using it to track back other contemporary references to fairies. There are a great deal of pamphlets in Early English Books Online that speak to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century interest in these creatures. Nonetheless, there are huge gaps in what we know about them, simply because the elite and learned did not write much about them until later. If it hadn’t been for Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth, I think a great deal of lore would have been lost – even if, I hasten to add, Kirk was writing from a particular perspective in a particular place and time.
On my own, I’m also chugging away on collecting material on a few different topics – the table ritual, witch bottles, and wax images in particular. All of these already appear in published or soon-to-be-published places, but I want to have all the material in place so I can one day rewrite them to be even more impressive. I can dream, right?
No RPG writing is going on right now. This summer will pick up, I think, with some work on the Delta Green supplement Falling Towers. Right now, I’m simply enjoying running a game or two (D&D Rules Cyclopedia) and playing in two (D&D 5th edition, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire).
And the snake seems more healthy, even if she does seem to be going through a mid-winter fast – if this long bout of high temperatures constitutes a winter in upstate New York.