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While at Treadwell’s on my UK trip, I picked up Cunning Folk: An Introductory Bibliography, which is out of date but still fascinating.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Poeton’s Winnowing is an unpublished treatise on the cunning folk.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.

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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  Leave a Comment  

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  Leave a Comment  

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  

More Lecouteux Followups, Gaming in Averoigne and the Borderlands, and an Unwise Experiment

It’s a snow day here, so it’s an opportunity to catch up on some miscellaneous news.

…I’ve noticed a pattern in his books on Lapidaries and Talismans that aren’t quiet right, he doesn’t seem to understand how to construct these things nor attempted to ever do so, just translates random snippets and unfortunately some of his works get hyped as “complete”…

This is NOT to say that the works of Claude LeCouteux are worthless, but I find myself telling people over and over that his books on grimoires, talismans and amulets, and lapidaries should only be used as supplements for the fully translated materials that are already available, neo-grimoires, academic books & publications, as well as the occasional online lecture or course, and NEVER as newbie how-to books.

My only comment is that I hope RGF will take this knowledge and give it to us in some way. The world needs more quality works on magic.

  • You might notice that Lecouteux’s book A Lapidary of Sacred Stones, which is mentioned above, hasn’t rated a mention here. I got it in December and found it frustrating. It’s arranged alphabetically by the original, non-English names of the stones (and as we don’t know the translation, that’s fine) – and it lacks an index. Thus, no recommendation.
  • The D&D group has spent two sessions journeying through Clark Ashton Smith’s  Averoigne. I decided not to add too much new content, aside from a few random encounters, such as the one with the inquisitor who was told that a winged party member was the “spirit made flesh.” Now that they’ve achieved all of their goals, they’ve decided that they need to take out Bishop Azedarac. This should go well.
  • I also ran a group at a staff retreat through the Keep in the Borderlands. I had many newbies and a few players of Pathfinder and later editions. Somehow they managed to pick the Shrine of Evil Chaos as their random destination, killed all the evil priests, and outran a horde of undead with only two or three deaths in the group. Nicely done!
  • A journal has accepted one of my articles. Upon signing the agreement for publication, I realized that they retain the copyright – but I have the right to put up the final pre-publication edited version online after publication. I think it will be an interesting and accessible piece.
  •  I’ve been baffled by a reference in e Mus. 173 to a horrible substance called “assacasinus.” Based upon the name, I was wondering if this might be cassia fistula, a plant known in medieval times as “cassia” and used today to cleanse sinuses and as an insecticide.

So, I ordered some the supplement online, and I put a small amount – about an eighth of a teaspoon – on a piece of charcoal. After vacating the room, I can say with confidence that it would be an appropriate substance for an early modern magician to put on a fire to torment a spirit – and, as is usual with such suffumigation, anyone else who is unfortunate enough to be nearby. I’m not sure that this is anywhere near rigorous enough to be definitive. I’m still open to other suggestions.

That’s all for now.  I’ve got some reviews coming up of the latest Enodia Press release, some samples of dojinshi, and the Hunter Clavis, so you can look forward to those.

 

Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Followup on Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells

I had a nice discussion in the comments with Frater A. P. regarding my review of Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells.  He’s been looking over Lecouteux’s translations in the book taken from Dr. Heinrich von Wlislocki’s Volksglaube und Volksbrauch der Siebenbürger Sachsen. What he’s found – and I’ve checked on some of his conclusions – is that there are some problems with the translations given in the book.  The seriousness of these discrepancies varies, but sometimes it extends to leaving out instructions – or even charm passages – from what’s presented in the book.  You can read his analysis here.

To be clear, my sympathies in cases of error are often on the side of the author. Mistakes creep into books quite easily.  After extensive work on Oberon, and level upon level of transcription, corrections, and proofing by multiple people, I once witnessed someone bring me their new copy, ask for a signature, open the book, and immediately catch an error. It happens.

That being said, I can share my impressions of the error. For me, it would be the sort of thing that would occur the first time copying a text.  Even if you’re confident that you’ve got it all, it’s still possible to make some major omissions from time to time when you miss a line or section.  I’m wondering if it’s what happened here, and it falls over the line of what I consider an acceptable error.

None of this is to diminish what Frater A. P. has discovered, which is an important and useful reminder that it’s important to vet sources, to double-check what we’re writing, and call out errors when we find them.  I’d suggest that anyone who wants to use Traditional Magic Spells to do their best to check the original sources if it matters for whatever work they are doing.

I’m interested on hearing others weigh in about what they think is appropriate.

Published in: on February 20, 2018 at 7:39 pm  Comments (7)  

Forthcoming – Powwowing in Pennsylvania

Readers who are interested in folk magic, will definitely be keen on seeing the new book by Patrick Donmoyer, Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life.

I’m not saying this because Patrick and I are friends who have discussed writing, raided libraries, climbed mountains, haunted graveyards, and often cite each other. (Rarely has full disclosure of an author’s interests been so much fun to write.) It’s because it’s a lengthy, thorough, lavishly illustrated in color, well-researched, thoroughly footnoted yet accessible book detailing the folk magic beliefs, practices, lore, and texts of the Pennsylvania German people. I have read substantial parts of this book, and everything I have seen is absolutely wonderful.

On top of all that, it includes a translation of a classic powwowing book, Doctor Helfenstein’s Secrets of Sympathy, featuring all manner of folk remedies and charms. I have a serious problem with this, as clearly Patrick could have sold people this translation as a separate volume and nobody would have batted an eye. You’re just lucky to get it with everything else.

To sum up, Powwowing in Pennsylvania is a great work whether you’re just curious, or if you’re a full-fledged scholar of braucherei in Pennsylvania.

If you click on the link above, you can find the mail-in order form at the lower right. (Yes, I know it’s not electronic, but it’s definitely worth it.) The book was a little delayed on account of Patrick wanting to make it even better, If you’re still not convinced, or if you’re concerned as to when it will appear, Google Books already has a preview up.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 7:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Monsters from the Folger: Another Paper Available Online, and Reader Comments

A paper by James Clark, Joseph Peterson, and I, “He Appeareth Like a Monster,” that originally appeared in the journal Monsters and the Monstrous, is now posted to Academia.edu.

Yesterday I got a message from Tony, who asks regarding my review of Lecouteux’s Traditional Magic Spells:

I was wondering if you could expand upon your review here with a few additional comments. I’m trying to find out if this book presents any never-before-seen grimoiric content. Things such as alternate versions of talismans or seals from Solomonic material or similar… I’m trying to see more of the positive notes from your review but it seems like the book simply a pick n’ mix of folk magic- more of an ‘encyclopedia’ of his favorite mentions of healing from disparate sources. What, if anything makes this book uniquely valuable?

Tony is the sort of reader I like: he mostly answers his own question. The book does not contain many talismans or seals, so I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out for those.

I would add that many grimoires do contain operations that we might define to the popular idea of “folk magic,” and that Lecouteux’s book of “favorite mentions” on just about any topic will be broad-ranging and of great interest to a lot of people. Nonetheless, Tony, I can’t talk you into liking a book. (You might try Lecouteux’s The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets instead, though.)

Sarah asked a question earlier about Enodia Press’s shipping times.  I responded:

I’ve ordered three books from Enodia, and each one has taken a while but arrived on time and in good shape. The tracking numbers provided by the Mexican post office are… aspirational, shall we say. The one for my first order claimed that it had not departed the local post office outside Mexico City up until the time that the book showed up in upstate New York.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask Enodia. I’ve been happy with their responsiveness and their product.

Please post any more comments you’d like to have answered!

 

 

Published in: on February 1, 2018 at 7:23 pm  Comments (2)