Upcoming Releases on Faustian Magic, the Three Magi

Two brief notices on books worth watching for, and that are highly unlikely to show up in your local bookstore.

Enodia Press has announced the imminent release of its latest collection of ritual magic texts attributed to the infamous Faust.   Dr. Faust’s Greatest and Most Powerful Sea-Spirit is a compilation of three infamous works of magic that have been previously unpublished, along with a work from an unpublished manuscript. It takes a little more effort to order books from Enodia, but it has been consistently worth it for both their presentation and their unmatched contents.

Revelore is releasing a new book by Dr. Al Cummins: an exploration of the folklore, prayers, and spells that elaborate on the story of the Three Magi. A Book of the Magi promises to be excellent, and I’m looking forward to it.

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Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing

Oddly enough, despite his extensive catalog of works published through Inner Traditions, Professor Claude Lecouteux’s new releases get little attention. His latest work, Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing, didn’t show up in their catalog, and I only learned of it while exploring the shelves of the Union Square Barnes and Noble.  It’s likely many readers won’t hear of it, which is a shame. Lecouteux provides us with a marvelous excavation of the intellectual strata of magic, providing a wealth of spells and charms for these purposes. Yet the book is also a frustrating one in terms of organization.

traditional-magic-spells-for-protection-and-healing-9781620556214_hrIf you are interested in reading a collection of spells to protect and heal derived from magical traditions from across Europe, this certainly fits the bill. The format is very similar to that in The Book of Grimoires, although the coverage is much more broad. Frankly, I wish that Lecouteux had downplayed Pliny, given his availability in translation, but the bulk of material consists of remedies from medieval and early modern manuscripts and non-English works and journals dealing with folklore. The short commentaries vary in their usefulness for me and seem spotty in nature, but I think less specialized readers will find them welcome.

In terms of its content, this book is wonderful. As for its organization, it leaves me completely baffled as to why it was arranged as it was.  We begin with magical methods of diagnosis, followed by a lengthy section giving the cures for various ailments in alphabetical order.  Initially each section appears to be arranged chronologically from the earliest charms to the latest, but this breaks down in some of the longer sections. We even have a section for dealing with spells that heal multiple ailments – although not all the spells that do so are included in this section.

The next chapter deals with protections against evil spells, the Evil Eye, and witchcraft. Next come compilations of charms against demons, and then against fairies, trolls, and other such spirits – although remedies for demons are mixed in with them. Then we return to healing, this time for animals – although I’ve found charms to cure animals in previous sections – and finally to ways of warding off natural disasters, ghosts (who are distinguished from other spirits), witchcraft, and other dangers.

All of this is followed with a curious series of appendices: a brief work on healing by Saint Bernardine of Siena; descriptions of the deeds of sorcerers by Bernard Gui and Cyrano de Bergerac (a passage I read as satiric); a brief section on encrypted and enciphered spells; an untranslated page on healing from the works of Jean Fernel; procedures for making a man impotent; a list of French and Belgian saints and the afflictions they cure, and a few pages of talismans attributed to Apollonius of Tyana.  I won’t say that these are unconnected with the text, but why exactly this particular selection of topics was chosen as appendices is not always clear. Overall, it’s hard to come up with reasons why this book would have taken the form it did.

If you’ve got a book as I’ve just described, what will really pull it together is a good, comprehensive index that can make the contents available howsoever they are organized. This one… is not so great.  In many cases it simply covers the categories already present, without detailing other appearances of the same topic elsewhere.

This is not to say that this is an unwelcome book.  The material collected within is great, the bibliography is an amazing resources, and a casual reader will be very happy with it. If you’re working on any projects on spells like this, you’ll probably also want it – but you’ll likely find problematic if you want to find anything in particular, or if you start asking yourself why “Anthrax” and “Charbon (Anthrax)” are two different headings, for instance. Nonetheless, unless you’ve spent a great deal of time building a magical library and are a master of several languages, you probably don’t have a collection like this.

Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – Kurlander’s Hitler’s Monsters

We’ve seen a great number of books written about the influence of the occult upon the Third Reich.  Of particular interest are such works as Goodwin-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism and Staudenmeier’s Between Occultism and Nazism, which deal with the roles Ariosophy and Anthroposophy, respectively, played in Nazi Germany.  The latest offering, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, is written by Eric Kurlander of Stetson University and published by Yale University Press.

The word “supernatural” is key to understanding Kurlander’s objective.  Althoughprevious authors have attempted to deal with different aspects of Nazi occultism, Kurlander seeks to survey the influence of the “supernatural” on the Third Reich, with that term remaining largely undefined save to map it in some respects to the German idea of “border science,” which in itself seems rather vague.  This allows him to cover racial pseudo-science, astrology, dowsing, folklore, mythology, runes, werewolves, vampires, the Grail, the Tibet Expedition, Wewelsburg Castle, World Ice Theory, anti-gravity, and all sorts of other topics about which you, having read this far, probably want to learn more.  On the other hand, the specificity of his definition makes his insistence that Nazi Germany was considerably different from other countries at the time, with regard to similar beliefs, difficult to prove.

Nonetheless, this book is a fascinating work.  Kurlander is rarely able to delve into any topic at length, but what he provides is a useful survey of the scholarship on many different matters coupled with illuminating archival research.  Previous works have often emphasized the eccentric and sometimes horrible intellects who proposed many of the unusual beliefs that became part of Weimar German culture.  Kurlander does acknowledge them, but he sets out to describe specifically what Hitler, Himmler, Hess, and other prominent members of the Nazi party believed and were willing to support with the Reich’s resources.  The goal here is to establish what was of import to the leadership and what has been romanticized, although the latter is usually dealt with by omission than discussion.

Considerable debate has surrounded the Nazi leadership’s interest in the occult.  Was it the heart of their dark designs? Or were German occultists victims of an ideology that eventually turned their countrymen against them, especially after Rudolf Hess fled for Great Britain?  This is not a simple answer, Kurlander tells us.  Some beliefs were largely outside the Nazis’ ingenuity to assimilate into their system; little is said of ritual magic in this book, for instance.  Nonetheless, proponents of many of these beliefs who followed party orthodoxy – or gained the sponsorship of high-ranking members – survived and even throve in Nazi Germany, even if some elements of the government were keen on silencing them.

I feel that this review has come across as more negative than I desired.  I had hoped for a more comprehensive perspective on these issues – but if nothing else, it has convinced me that a work would have to be colossal to accomplish that task.  Hitler’s Monsters is a necessity for anyone who wishes to know the role of the supernatural in the Third Reich, and who wishes to put aside much of the dross that has accumulated on that subject.

 

 

Published in: on August 6, 2017 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

John Harries’ Book of Incantations

I’m trying something to see if it works out: embedding a manuscript from the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, or National Library of Wales.  The work is the notebook of John Harries (c. 1785-1839), a cunning man of Cwrty-Cadno, Carmarthenshire.

Most of the book consists of materials taken from elsewhere, but the first treatise is a handwritten version of the Goetia which seems to include some seals not present elsewhere.  I offer it for your appreciation – just don’t ask me to pronounce any of the Welsh words above.

https://viewer.library.wales/build/lib/embed.js/* wordpress fix */

Update: No luck with the embed, so just try this link.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm  Comments (2)  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 5

We’re halfway through Day 3 of my excursion.

Leaving Carn Brea, I still had a packed day of travel.  My next stop was St. Mawnan near Falmouth, the site of the infamous Owlman sightings.  U. S. readers might connect this cryptid with Mothman.  This is inaccurate, as the Owlman story has magical ceremonies and sea monsters and naked witches, and is almost certainly a hoax concocted by one person.  Anyway, here’s the church itself:

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The Owlman – and the associated sea monster, Morgawr – had been supposedly sighted past the church, down the steep hillside that led to the rocky cliffs above the bay.  I decided to take a quick walk and take a look.  In case anyone is curious, here’s the terrain in question.

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I did not take a picture of the church organist, who was quite insistent that I leave his unmarked parking spot so he could take part in an upcoming wedding rehearsal.

I love fogous, the underground stone passages dating back thousands of years.  Only a few survive in Cornwall.  I tried to find the Piskie’s Fogou, with its links to fairy lore, but I had no luck in finding any parking nearby.  I had better luck trying to track down Halligye, which is on a National Trust estate.  It’s closed in the off season for bat hibernation, but in the summer it’s easily accessed – once you find it.

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This is an interior shot.  The passage is really quite long  and muddy – I recommend both shoes and pants you don’t care about, if you want to get the full experience.

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My final scheduled stop for the day was Pengersick Castle in Praa Sands.  I’d go into the legend about this place, but it’s way too long.  Suffice to say, it’s got a wizard and a magic sword and pirates and mermaids and phantom hares and a woman who turns into a snake.  It’s a private residence, so I contented myself with a photo from the road.

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Where to now?  I had sworn to avoid West Penwith – the very tip of Cornwall – this trip, as I always go to West Penwith, but I still had daylight left.  I chose two sites.  The first was the holy well at Madron, where people traditionally tied clouties to nearby trees to cure them of their ills.

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Finally, I tracked down back roads, risking life and limb to uncover the stones at Mên-an-Tol.  I finally found the site and hiked down an overgrown farmer’s track to find it, only to find the monolithic site to be hosting a father-and-son Nerf gun battle.  They departed soon, and I had a few minutes alone with the stones.

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It was getting late, so I drove quickly through the witch-haunted hills, past mermaid-sheltering Zennor and the cottage where Crowley supposedly drove someone mad but probably didn’t, and made it back to Truro in time to drop off the car and catch the train back to St. Austell.

I had a small excursion to a holy well the following morning – but I think I’m going to leave this right here.  Cornwall is a fun place to visit, and I’m already thinking about where I want to go  the next time.

 

Published in: on December 2, 2016 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Interview on The Thinker’s Garden

I recently did an email interview for the site The Thinker’s Garden, which has recently been posted.

In case you needed another incentive, I also dropped some news there about my next contractual project…

Published in: on November 19, 2016 at 6:26 pm  Comments (1)  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 4

So last time, I came to the end of my first of two days with a car.   On my second day, I decided to roam about a bit more.

My first stop was the ruined chapel at Roche Rock.  It’s an interesting trip.  You’re driving around in a small town, going into small subdivisions and passing through a tiny town center.  You drive down a side road and suddenly see this:

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Roche Rock bears a ruined chapel to St. Michael the Archangel, built in the fifteenth century.  It is said that Tregeagle, the reputed ghost, wizard, and giant, once cheated the hounds of Hell by sticking his head through the small window you can see in the wall of the chapel, so he had holy sanctuary.

The next site was the spectacular hilltop of Carn Brea, just outside Redruth.  It does have some Neolithic and Iron Age sites, but most of those are well overgrown.  Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile for two reasons.  The first is the impressive rock formations that loom over the landscape, such as the Giant’s Head.

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The second are two follies, monuments erected by the rich for their amusement or to keep the local people occupied.  The first of these is the Bassett Monument at the top of the hill, erected in 1836 by public subscription in honor of Baron Francis Basset.

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The second is Carn Brea Castle, also erected by the Basset family on the former site of a chapel.  There’s supposed to be a great Jordanian restaurant there, but apparently it’s only open by appointment and for at least four guests.  (Something to arrange in advance for my next trip, perhaps?)

 

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I spent some time hiking around on the top of the hill, taking in the gorgeous views, before I decided to head to other sites later that day.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 12:55 pm  Comments (1)  

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  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 (4)