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.

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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)  

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  

My English Excursion, Part 1

This year, I went on another of my UK travel extravaganzas. This one was a little different, as on the first leg I was accompanied by my parents and my friend C—– on a lengthy excursion through Cornwall.

As you might know, Cornwall has a special fascination for me, and as you probably don’t, my family has roots in the area that my parents wished to explore. Thus we made it in the train to Penzance. We stayed this time in bed and breakfasts on the west side of the city, thus becoming acquainted with the beautiful, if occasionally gnat-infested, alleys and backways that twist between hedges of wildflowers and open to reveal tiny public gardens. After some confusion about train tickets for C——, we all were ensconced at the Turk’s Head Restaurant and ready to venture forth the next day.

Sadly, the busses around West Penwith are less prompt than they once were, so we were only able to achieve so much on that day. We first decided to visit the village of Ludgvan, the last stop on the pilgrimage route to St. Michael’s Mount. Upon arriving, we saw curious robed figures in the tower of the church of St. Paul. As it turned out, we had accidentally crashed the parish’s Ascension Day service. We spent some time in quiet contemplation, and then the parishioners indicated we might take some pictures and feel free to depart. I, of course, concentrated on gargoyles.

Ludgvan Gargoyles

I snapped a picture of the font, in which those who were baptised in water from a nearby spring were certain never to be hanged. Indeed, I know of no hangings of people in my family, so I suppose this was efficacious.

Norman font at Ludgvan

We wandered for a while in the churchyard, collecting photographs of the sturdy stones left by my forebears, before departing for St. Michael’s Mount. The tide was high, as it is on every trip I make, so we took a boat over to the island.

St Michael's Mount

I had climbed the hill to the fortress and chapel repeatedly, so I contented myself with accompanying C—–, which inspired some amusement. C—–, it should be said, is part of the renowned and armigerous family of T—–. I would watch him walk about the rooms of the castle, giving everything the deepest interest and consideration, and walking right past anything having to do with the T—– family without giving it a second thought, even when it was a large plaque or portrait. Nonetheless, he seems to have been happy with the fame which the T—– clan had achieved in an unexpected place. I got ice cream, and then we explored the gardens on the far side of the island.

This took us well into the afternoon – but for the next three days, we had a car, and we intended to make the most of it.

The first morning, we made a brief stop by the town of T——, so my friend could get a brief picture in front of the town hall with his name on it. We then traveled across the length of Cornwall to the stone circles known as the Hurlers. The wind was blowing and the rain was falling, and we made our way across the field to the three stone circles – and beyond, walking toward the tall ridge on which stands the curious rock formation called the Cheesewring. My parents and I soon turned back, but C—– ventured onward, until we saw him vanish on Bodmin Moor. Seriously, Americans, moors are serious business. There’s very little cover, but I can see how easy it would have been to become lost, even though we had major landmarks in sight.

Cheesewring, Bodmin Moor

Did he disappear forever, or fall victim to the Beast of Bodmin? Find out next post!

Published in: on June 13, 2018 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

Article “Of Fairies” Published in Folklore

I thought I’d get to the travelogue first – but my latest article, “Of Fairies,” was just published in the journal Folklore. Here’s the official link, but you can find the unofficial postprint below:

Harms Of Fairies Folklore Postprint

 

Published in: on May 24, 2018 at 10:40 am  Comments (1)  

Appearance on the Folklore Podcast

I’ve been gone for a few weeks, because I’ve been in England. I promise a full and undesirable travelogue for all of you.

In the meantime, you should know that my lecture, delivered at the Dew of Heaven conference put on by the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, has been recorded and uploaded as the latest episode of The Folklore Podcast.

More to follow!

Published in: on May 23, 2018 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revelore Press on the Magi and Scandinavian Magic, with a Note on Hutton

Some quick updates:

  • Revelore Press is a new publisher that has taken up the mantle – and some of the back catalog – of Rubedo Press, especially their Cyprian-related publications.
  • Revelore also just released the enjoyable new book by the wonderful Al Cummins, A Book of the Magi, dealing with their appearances in folklore, festival, and magic. The only downside to this is that reading it prompted me to start finding  Magi references in all sorts of magical works, which I send to Al, which means he’s probably going to get stuck with writing a sequel. If you’re interested in Christian-themed folk magic or popular religious practices, it’s worth looking at.
  • Revelore has also announced an upcoming book called Svartkönstbocker, a compilation of extracts from the black books of Sweden taken from the work of the late Thomas K. Johnson. The publisher has the rights to his thesis, which is this tremendous translation of many black books that I’ve reviewed previously. I’ll keep an eye on this one, to see how much of those thirty-five grimoires covering five hundred pages they’re going to reprint.
  • Speaking of Swedish magic and folklore… someone here was asking for information on the year walk, or årsgång. I found this article on the topic, for those interested.
  • I’m still working on the Hunter Clavis review, which is delayed due to time constraints. I’m comparing its contents to Sibley – those who want to compare it to Mathers or Skinner and Rankine can do so themselves, because otherwise I won’t have time to work on anything else.
  • Due to an unexpected work-related book review assignment, I have now read all of Hutton’s book The Witch twice, which means that I now have more extensive opinions on it.  I’d stand by my assessment as “pretty good,” but I can see some more of the seams. For example, the subtitle, “A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present,” is bound to throw people off, as the period of the witch trials and afterward is given only a short chapter, along with examinations of particular issues during the trials that relate largely to the British Isles. The chapters on elves and familiars are both must-reads if you’re interested in those topics – but finding them in a book on witches isn’t exactly where one might expect to encounter them. There’s certainly nothing more than a brief allusion to modern witchcraft, and certainly no mention of particular figures or critique of doctrines.
Published in: on April 12, 2018 at 6:52 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Dr. Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit

The German occult scene has seen many books of ritual magic attributed to the infamous Doctor Faust appear over the years. Most of these have remained untranslated into other languages, but recently they have begun to appear in English, most notably through the Mexican publisher Enodia. Following their releases of the Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis and the Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic, they now present one of the books that I’ve been most keen to read ever since I read about it in Butler’s Ritual Magic: Grosser und Gewaltiger Meergeist. Now Nicolás Álvarez’ latest translation, Doctor Johannes Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit, finally scratches that itch.

Before going forward, I should add that I’m in talks with another publisher to work on an edition of Meergeist. Please read the following in light of this potential conflict of interest. Plus, this is a book I purchased, rather than a review copy.

We begin with an introduction from Álvarez , providing insight into the background and cultural significance of the book and its contents. It particularly notes the more imaginative aspects of the ritual, and Álvarez also provides us with insights on the early modern attitudes toward the imagination and its usage in magic. The only small addition I wanted were a few notes, especially for the mythological and folkloric significance of underwater beings. The book also includes a bibliography, but lacks an index.

The bulk of the book consists of four treatises on magic, beginning with the Sea-Spirit itself. In this experiment, a magician creates a massive metal circle, using chains from a gallows and nails from a breaking wheel.  He places it by a body of water, and then brings three companions and a black hen. We then see a curious interlude in which Lucifer and his subservient spirits appear before the magician and discuss the great riches that they hold. Then Lucifer and Amaymon take on the form of Persian merchants and greet the magician, asking him whether they have the seven souls necessary to complete the operation. The magician cites himself, his three companions, the two demons, and a black hen, and demands the treasure.

Álvarez provides us with three additional rites, two of which are connected with the water. The first, taken from Darmstadt MS 831, is a waterside rite to call up the spirit Quirumndai, who can bring treasure and teach the magician secrets in the guise of an old, grey-cloaked man. The second, the Veritable Jesuit Coercion of Hell, is not actually linked to the Jesuits, as you’ve probably guessed, but a magical operation to call the spirit Tarafael to bring up treasure from the depths. The third, Arcanum Experientia Praetiosum, is geared toward a dream incubation rite, such as those for the spirit Balancus in Oberon. A key part of this is creating a spirit sigil which is placed under the window and then beaten with a rod while calling upon the archangel Michael until the spirit performs one’s bidding. All four total about seventy pages of text.

I haven’t had time to check the translation at any length, but if you want to compare, Álvarez places the German text in an appendix.  Overall, the book is attractive and thorough in presentation, although the text might have benefited from another once-over – and my copy could have used a little more packing material.

I don’t want to leave this on a negative note, however. You’ve got four texts here that have never been translated into English before, one of which has not been published before now, to my knowledge. This constitutes a great new resource for anyone who collects grimoires, especially those who are fascinated in Faustian magic in particular. If either of those describes you, you should definitely send some money to Mexico for this one.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment