Vaccinated, Kickstarter Non-Starter, Paper Given, Medieval Exorcism, Book Received, Dungeon Crawl Classic Thoughts, More

Above illustration from Paul Huson’s Liber Spirituum, now available here.

I’m now fully vaccinated, having spent two days after the second Moderna shot squirreled away watching a Rocky marathon. It did turn out to be more inspirational and interesting than I had thought it would be.

A little while ago, we had an interesting Kickstarter for a “Hastur Tarot Deck.” The project was fully-funded and featured full colour art for a Tarot deck based on the one that John Tynes and I wrote up for Delta Green: Countdown two decades ago. Trouble was, the publisher hadn’t checked with John or I or Arc Dream, who own the rights. Shortly after someone contacted the Kickstarter to point this out, the whole affair was shut down due to “personal issues.” I believe an official release will be Kickstarted later this year, so Mythos fans should have something to which to look forward.

I’ve been holed up at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, where I gave a talk on saints being conjured – mostly Saint Helen and Saint George, with a side note on the St. Christopher prayer. My thanks to the organizers, and I hope to present again in subsequent years.

In preparation for the paper, the introduction to Florence Chave-Mahir and Julien Véronèse’s Ritual d’exorcisme ou manuel de magie?, a publication of one of the first known exorcistic manuals, dating to the early fifteenth century, that includes sections that are very much in the model of what most readers would typically call “incantations.”

Volume 2 of Golden Hoard’s Ars Notoria seems to be in shipping limbo of some sort, with Amazon asking me to approve the order. I’ve heard that this is only temporary, so there’s no need to worry.

I’ve also received John R. King IV’s new book The Faculty of Abrac, which I believe is a review copy that I will not have time to review. If I were to tell the author something helpful, it would be that an index or more detailed table of contents would probably inspire people, including me, to find the text more accessible.

My quarantine Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign is moving toward its conclusion. It is a fun game, although I feel that around level 5 (which might map roughly to 9-10 in other editions) the whole thing starts to break down, as the truly insane combat-ending spell results become commonplace. I’d suggest that anyone running it also insert a “save on a natural 20” roll, to balance out magicians rolling save difficulties that no one can ever beat.

Our Pendragon game continues well into the Anarchy era. Apparently there are plans afoot for an expanded three-volume version of the Great Pendragon Campaign, but that might be some time away.

Published in: on May 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Four Wizards Jump to the Fore, Upcoming Magical Events

Today’s image, poor as it is, represents two pages from the Éditions du Monolithe Liber Thozgraeci, another lineage of the Key of Solomon, displaying the seals of of the seventy-two names of God.

Projects have called me away from writing here. I’ve had to prioritize jumping back into the research on eighteenth and nineteenth-century astrology and alchemy, as well as the complex and contentious saga of Olivia Serres. Next, witch bottles, and then back into the text written by the Four Wizards themselves for final / lengthy tightening up.

Stephen Skinner and Daniel Clark are preparing to release Volume 2 of their Ars Notoria. Note that the product description on Amazon seems to be that of Volume 1; I believe the new work will be on more of the operative end of matters.

During my hiatus, I’ve missed a great deal of events that I wished to tell you about. There’s an event with PSU Press this Friday with four authors of recent books in their History of Magic series, which should be worth seeking out. The Warburg Institute has also had some interesting magical talks, such as this one.

Friend of the blog Al Cummins had a talk on necromancy given in recognition of the latest Magic: The Gathering Release. Watch it here.

The Arkham Gazette 3, including my article on Goody Fowler, is now available in print on demand here.

I’ll try to keep up.

Published in: on April 27, 2021 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

General Update

I haven’t had much to say lately, having a pile of work to do and a pile of gaming to amuse myself afterward. I’m in the vaccination cycle right now, so I’m hoping to be out and about more soon, especially if enough people can also get the same benefit. I might not be heading overseas this year, so I’ll be missing some of you a little longer.

My next review will be Precious Apothecary, although it might take me a while to get to it. I’m doing some deep diving on magical incantations involving the saints, especially directed at St. George and St. Helen, along with pulling together two books at once.

Among books received is Aaman Lamba’s new work Great French Occult Romances (see above), which he was kind enough to send. It includes the Red Dragon novel that I mentioned in my review of his previous work, plus other fictional texts from the same period.

I’m taking a break from the main text in order to continue to work on the illustrations, and to work on some of the background of Olivia Serres and Robert Cross Smith, a.k.a. Raphael. I’m also trying to wrestle with some ideas about when the “occult,” in the way we conceptualize it as a category including magic, alchemy, and astrology, came about. I’m open to reading suggestions on all of this, of course.

Has anyone considered writing a history of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game? It would be great if someone were accumulating all the institutional wisdom of the people involved in its creation, evolution, and distribution.

Take care, everyone.

Published in: on April 13, 2021 at 12:01 pm  Comments (3)  

RoberCon 2020 This Weekend – Lovecraft and Gaming Talking

This year, our local sci-fi / fantasy / gaming convention, RoberCon, is entirely online.

I’ll be moderating two panels. The first is Saturday at noon EDT, when I’ll be hosting a discussion of Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space.” The second, at 11 on Saturday, will be a bunch of us talking about different roleplaying games.

A badge is only $15, and it gets you into these two panels and a bunch of others. If you’re a fan who’s getting stir-crazy, this is a great opportunity to hear some passionate people talk about what they love, or get some Discord gaming in.

I’ll return to regular blogging soon – and if anyone wants me to speak at an event that’s actually about grimoires and weird magic as we move toward Halloween, just let me know!

Stay safe and take care, everyone.

Published in: on September 21, 2020 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oberon and Privacy, Podcasts, Hell Fire Update, and Various Methods of Divination

A happy Beltane or May Day, for those who celebrate either.

I presented on Folger V.b.26 (The Book of Oberon) at the University of Copenhagen Centre for Privacy Studies’ Practices of Privacy: Knowledge in the Making symposium. I’m looking forward to writing it up as an article and sharing it more broadly.

Along with my regular duties and avocations, I participated in a podcast on magical books for Treadwell’s, and a podcast on Averoigne for the People’s Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos. I hope to give you more links to other items soon.

Most of occult publishing seems to be on hold, due to the challenges of our present situation. If you do see an announcement of a publication in the grimoires field, please let me know in the comments.

About two weeks ago, Miskatonic Books posted that they will no longer be carrying books by the publisher Hell Fire Club. They don’t report having any trouble with HFC in their business arrangements, but they were becoming the focus for all of the queries from authors and purchasers who couldn’t get in touch with HFC themselves.

I have made considerable progress on Humberto Maggi’s translation of the Sufurino Cyprian, so that will likely be my next review.

I’ve spent some time working with a few items from Four Wizards – short rituals for divination using the psalter and key, the sieve and shears, and the bread and knives. I’ve yet to find good coverage for any of these – it’s more pulling together some mentions from different sources to see if I can figure out a general picture. Willy Braekman’s Middeleeuwse witte en zwarte magie in het Nederlands taalgebied (1997) is helpful, but it tends to concentrate on usage in the Netherlands. If anyone has seen a more comprehensive coverage of these with proper references, I’d love to hear about it.

Stay healthy, safe, and secure, everyone.

 

 

Published in: on May 1, 2020 at 7:59 pm  Comments (4)  

Midnight in the Desert Tonight

Join me tonight LIVE on Midnight in the Desert with Dave Schrader, 9pm – 12am Pacific Time (12am – 3am EST)!

I’ll be talking about Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits, and probably anything else that comes up.

You can call in from the US at 520-600-MITD, and listen at this link.

 

Published in: on December 17, 2019 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Early September Wrap-Up

So, I’d like to get to a more regular blogging schedule. We’ll see if that holds.

  • NecronomiCon was great, as always. I had two enjoyable panels, one on Delta Green, and the other on horror in games, featuring Sandy Peterson (creator of Call of Cthulhu), Ken Hite (creator of Trail of Cthulhu), Shane Ivey (author of the Delta Green RPG), and a couple of other up and coming creators.

 

 

  • My work continues on The Book of Three Wizards. I’m double-checking the text and creating transcripts of the various diagrams for James. We hit a slow portion, due to the first author’s decision to incorporate some incredibly complex astrological charts, the import of which we’re still debating. There were over nine thousand separate elements I had to check for accuracy, but that’s past.

 

  • Did you know that Golden Hoard is releasing Daniel Clark and Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria soon?

 

 

  • Pam Grossman and William Kiesel of Ouroboros Press are presenting a seminar on “Collecting Grimoires, Spell Books, and Witchcraft Tomes” at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this Saturday at 2 PM.

 

More to come soon, I hope!

Published in: on September 3, 2019 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Swedish Black Books and NecronomiCon Appearances

This announcement from Revelore Press appeared this morning:

Svartkonstböker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition

by Dr Tom K Johnson
Folk Necromancy in Transmission Volume 4

ISBN: 978-1-947544-22-2; Sept 2019; ~650pp.

Svartkonstböker is a fully revised edition of Dr Johnson’s 2010 PhD Thesis Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, featuring a thorough, path-breaking study of the black arts book tradition in Sweden, as well as English translations of 35 Swedish black art books ranging from the 1690s to the 1940s, including over 1900 spells and a robust index.

The late Dr Johnson always wished that his work would see print publication in its entirety. Other publishers have offered to produce this work in two volumes, prioritizing the spells in the black art books over the scholarly apparatus that contextualizes them. Here Revelore presents the work in full, comprising over 650 pages of material. Minor errors from the PhD manuscript have been rectified, and archival images of the characters, sigils, and illustrations have been restored in high fidelity. This is the definitive source work for the Swedish magical corpus of black art books.

If this fulfills this mandate – and it should – it will be amazing. Both paperback and collector’s editions will be available. The paperback is priced at $50, but 650 pages makes it well worth it.

I will also be returning to NecronomiCon this year, and I’ll be on two panels. One is Delta Green based, Sunday at 9 AM. The other is a panel I’m moderating “On Gaming the Weird,” with Sandy Petersen, Kenneth Hite, Fiona Maeve Geist, Shane Ivey, and Badger McInnes. You can see the full schedule here.

Published in: on August 5, 2019 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Festooned with Fairies

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.

Published in: on March 15, 2016 at 8:20 pm  Comments (8)  

On the World Fantasy Awards and HPL

I wasn’t even going to write about the controversy about the World Fantasy Award no longer being represented by a Lovecraft bust, but I seem to keep doing it anyway on Facebook.  I might as well do it properly.

Lovecraft was a racist.  You can argue that other authors were racist (and they often were).  You can argue that Lovecraft was reflecting the attitudes of many people of his time (and you’d be right, despite how enlightened we think the past was – check out this Gallup poll on interracial marriage).  You can argue that attitudes change, and that modern perspectives may one day be considered offensive (quite right).  You can argue that most of his work isn’t that racist (you can certainly make a case for it).  And after you argue all this, guess what?  Lovecraft was still a racist.

As more people encounter Lovecraft’s writing, they also encounter his racism.  I think there are three responses to it.  The first is, “He was racist?  Great!”  We can and should ignore those people.  The second is, “Even though Lovecraft is racist, I think there’s enough here to make him worth reading, or even inspiring my own creations.”  The third is, “Lovecraft is racist, and I’d rather not have anything to do with him.”

Now, I clearly fall into the second category, but I get the third.  Life is short, and if you want to not read an author due to their political views, I can’t really tell you not to.  I can say that it’s not the criteria I hope you’d use, but I once stopped reading a book because it used the phrase “Abramelin yoga,” so I can understand not wanting to participate in some activity due to a visceral response to one issue or another.  And I don’t mind you trying to convince other people not to read that author.  It’s only when the option of doing so is taken away that we have a serious situation.

So, people in the third category, including winners of the World Fantasy Award, expressed their concern – and outrage, in some cases – that they were being awarded for their writing in the shape of the head of a guy whose views are highly distasteful at this time.  They certainly had a right to do so.  The committee no doubt balanced the idea that this was an award for writers against the fact that it was an award in the shape of some guy’s head, and decided in favor of making an award any writer would be proud to get.   They also had a right to do so.

Now we have people in the Lovecraft community who are incensed that this change was made.  They also have a right to make their voices known, to protest, and to spend their money as they see fit, but…

There’s one aspect of my life I don’t speak about on this blog:  my involvement in what people might call “social justice” issues, and what I call “trying to make the lives of the people around me better.”  This picked up a few years ago, and I’ve been involved in educating others, trying to help people with problems, participating in protests, and just listening to the stories of others.

I’ve found that there’s a disjunction between this activity and the various fandom controversies that we’ve been seeing lately.   As I’ve said, we can debate issues such as the WFA award, and advocate, and spend our money and time as we see fit… but damned if it doesn’t make us look entitled sometimes.

There is no fundamental right for someone to have an award shaped like his or her head.  There is no fundamental right to be allowed to speak in a particular place, or to have a particular store sell your product, or to have a library purchase your book, or to have a piece of art appear in the Louvre.  You may be given a particular venue, or you may not.  People may have all sorts of reasons for making that choice, and they may change their minds.  As long as you still have venues open – and today, they exist in abundance – everything is working as it should.

Thus, this decision is not “censorship.”  Censorship is the suppression of a creative work, not a decision to not use a particular creative work in a particular way.  Using it in this sense trivializes the work of many writers who have indeed seen their works destroyed or kept from the public, and who have even endured imprisonment or death for seeking to share their ideas.

No one is being made to pack up their Awards and mail them back.  You can still view pictures of them online.  I’m sure that one consequence of this decision will be attempts to actually market the sculpture in question to people.  And I’m just talking about the Gahan Wilson sculpture – not the works of Lovecraft, which can be found in many different formats and in many different languages and adaptations across the globe.  Lovecraft’s popularity has escalated over the years, and even if that is temporary, he is in no danger of being censored.  In fact, this whole controversy is based on the fact that HPL wasn’t censored, and that people can find even the minor and occasionally highly offensive verse he wrote.

I know there’s people talking about decisions being “p. c.” or being made by “SJWs,” and I think we should prize free expression over imposing or silencing particular views.  Nonetheless, I also see some of the same people insisting that the award should have simply been turned down by those who didn’t agree with HPL’s depiction.  As I’ve said, it’s a writing award, people.  Stating that a decision was made for ideological purity doesn’t mean you also can demand ideological purity from others.

I’ve also heard complaints that this change is an insult to Lovecraft fans, and that it tars all of them with the brush of racism.  To help understand why this itself is a problem, I’ll insert a quick comparison:

Problems for people of color:  Enduring centuries of slavery, violence, injustice, segregation, and discrimination.

Problems for Lovecraft fans:  Being denied award sculpture in shape of author’s head.  Some people might think they’re racist.   Bad movies.

Do these arguments make people want to read Lovecraft, or interact with their fans?  Certainly people can advocate on behalf of a Lovecraft-shaped award, but portraying fans as victims in this situation is going to play very badly.  It doesn’t make us look racist, but it sure as hell comes across as insensitive and trivial.

Let me end on this note:  If what makes you hopping mad, or compels you to write angry letters to all sorts of people, is anything having to do with a writing award, you need to seriously rethink your priorities.  There’s a number of ways to do that, one of which might be to put aside Lovecraft and read something along the lines of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for a little while.  After that, maybe we can start more of a dialogue about how we read and discuss Lovecraft and other authors who might not always have been the people we wish they were.

UPDATE:  … and in the morning, it looks even less relevant.  My deep sympathies to the people of Paris.

Published in: on November 13, 2015 at 5:37 pm  Comments (3)