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)  

A Pennsylvania Adventure, or How a Cursed Mountain Took My Pants

This weekend, I spent some pleasant time visiting Patrick Donmoyer of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center.  I had suggested that we visit the Hexenkopf, that infamous hill associated with tales of witches and powwowing.

We headed out early, hoping to beat the promised three to five inches of snow, and followed winding roads through hilly landscape, past old stone churches and barns with hex signs.  We eventually met with the land’s owner – I didn’t agree to give his name here – and we headed back toward the Hexenkopf.

A massive windstorm came through years ago, toppling many of the trees in the forest.  The area is overgrown with grave vines and thorns,  and we were hard pressed to find a path through the undergrowth.  We soon realized that the Hexenkopf is not a single rock, but three different ridges that follow each other in succession.  We took some pictures and decided to ascend the center one.

Patrick is much more of a climber than I am, so he went out in front as I trailed behind, stepping more gingerly between the rocks.  Still, one of them proved to be too much of a stretch, and I heard a ripping sound.   Apparently I had managed to tear out the crotch of my jeans.  I was wearing a long coat, fortunately, so the tear was not immediately visible.  I decided to continue.

We eventually found a way up, winding around the side of the hill, and stood on the top.  I can say that any stories about people driving wagons up or having huge revels of witches are unlikely, based upon the limited space available on top.  All we found was a small space, with three Yankee Candle Company “Strawberry” and “Mint” candles  that someone had left behind.  I would discourage people from doing that.

We came back down, and I prevailed upon the property owners to let me put on a spare set of pants.  We spent a few hours speaking with the owners about powwowing, charms, and other topics.  Afterward, we headed over to the Kutztown Area Historical Society, where I filled in more pieces in my knowledge of The Long-Lost Friend‘s publication history.

It was late, and Patrick and I went out for dinner with some of his friends, and afterward we stayed up late going through his massive collection of Pennsylvania German magical imprints.

In the morning, I found that the Hexenkopf’s curse continued.  The gap in my pants had admitted a bloodsucking guest onto my thigh.  I got some tweezers and removed the little guy.  (I’ve seen no lingering effects.)

We had a quick bagel sandwich and a discussion of “hex signs” in the morning, leading to the conclusion that the case for them being magical devices is even more tenuous than had been previously considered.  We finished up the next day with a trip to the Cultural Heritage Center to view more books and charms from the period.  Having done so, I said goodbye to Patrick and headed home, head filled with all manner of magical recipes and charms.

 

 

 

Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 2:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – Powwowing in Pennsylvania

I want110ed to share with you a small gem of a publication that I picked up at a recent event at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center.  They were holding a day conference dealing with powwowing and other forms of folk healing, featuring scholarly presentations, a lunch (do not get between Pennsylvania Germans and their chicken pot pie!), and this booklet.  The mini-conference was associated with an exhibition of written works and artifacts associated with powwow.  For $20 plus gas, it was a bargain. I somehow convinced three of my friends to go down with me.

Even if you weren’t able to make it, the conference booklet, Powwowing in Pennsylvania:  Healing, Cosmology, & Tradition in the Dutch Country, is a real treat.  Written by Patrick Donmoyer, the editor of Hohman’s The Friend in Need (review) and author of Hex Signs (review), the book discusses the evidence of powwowing – whether oral, written, or in artefact form – and the ideology that underlies it.  The text is both readable and has an extensive number of footnotes, so it will be a good guide to the topic written by an expert steeped in the topic.

What really catches one’s attention, though, are the large number of photographs in the book.  The cover, which you’ll see to the left, is one of the few pieces of photographic evidence of a historic powwowing ritual being performed.  I’ve attached more examples below of the many illustrations in the book, including printed and handwritten manuscripts, hand-composed charms, and material culture related to powwowing.  Most of it comes from regional or private collections, so you’ll be seeing items that you probably won’t be seeing unless you make a trek to rural Pennsylvania.

Finally, there’s the matter of price.  It’s a 40-page book with great information and amazing illustrations that you can only get by calling the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center and paying them $10, plus $3 shipping and handling (plus the rates for either of the Donmoyer books I mention above, which are definitely also worth the price).   For a little extra effort, you’ll get a book that is both informative and sure to be a collector’s item.  If you’re interested in powwowing or folk magic, it’s definitely worth it.

 

 

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Published in: on March 7, 2016 at 10:00 pm  Comments (1)  

On Hatsis’ The Witches’ Ointment and Abramelin

I just finished reading Thomas Hatsis’ new work, The Witches’ Ointment, which is the first book-length treatise on the legend and practice (such as it is) of the “flying ointment” said to be made out of a variety of dangerous or questionable substances.

I consider the book to have aspects that are beyond my capacity to judge, including pharmaceutical and historical, so I’ll pass over them here.  I do want to address one aspect of the book on which I’ve written previously.

One of the authorities Hatsis is particularly intent on taking seriously is Abraham of Worms, the purported author of the Book of Abramelin the Mage.  In his first book, Abraham speaks of meeting a young woman near Lintz (likely Linz, in Austria) who shared with him an ointment that caused him to believe that he went on a magical flying journey.  Upon putting her to the test, however, he later dismissed the experience as a delusion.  I’ve talked about it before, and you can read Mathers’ version of the tale here.

Now, our earliest manuscript of Abramelin dates to 1608.  This raises some questions as to whether it was written close to that date, or closer to the date of 1458 given in the manuscript.  I think Georg Dehn opts for the work being written by an actual historical figure at the time.  I forebear judgment for the time being, given that it would be easy to simply take a legendary figure and write a book that is supposedly his work.   I don’t insist that it dates to 1608, but I don’t have enough evidence to bring its authorship back further.  After all, historical accuracy was not necessary a primary (or even a tertiary) concern of people writing magical books.

Hatsis’ trouble is that he is dead set on Abraham of Worms being a figure who definitely did write the Book of Abramelin, and thus had the experience in Linz that is mentioned therein.  He tells us that “[b]ecause the account is so damaging to the skeptic’s argument it has been either dismissed or ignored or explained as a later forgery.”

It’s not clear where these skeptical rebuttals regarding Abramelin and witch’s ointment have appeared, but we’ll pass over that for now.  Hatsis pushes his argument further:

…it would have been dangerous – nay, downright foolish – if, at the height of the witch trials (the time that modern skeptics say the story originated), Abraham, a Jewish mystic, would essentially admit to engaging in witchcraft.  So it makes more sense historically to date Abraham’s account to the time when such practices weren’t considered diabolical witchcraft at all…

According to Hatsis, Abraham’s account pertains to an earlier time, before the 1420s, in which the use of such substances was seen as perhaps improper, but not in and of itself demonic.

The problem here is context.

If you read to the end of the passage to which I link above in Mathers’ edition, you’ll know that the sorceress admits at the end that she got the ointment from the Devil.  What makes this difficult is that Dehn’s translation – which is generally more accurate – states that it is the “Greek art,” described in the story after that of the witch of Linz, that is a demonic mixture.  The version of Peter Hammer’s German work that I have available suggests that this pertains to the witch’s story.

I believe that, before Abramelin can be used as a source here, this particular reading of the original manuscripts needs to be teased out.   If this is part of the story, Abramelin is not only discussing a flying ointment, but also endorsing a view that it has a diabolic origin – which means that Hatsis’ argument that it was written before that view collapses.

Speaking of diabolical involvement,  what else might you avoid putting in a document if you wanted to avoid getting in trouble with authorities obsessed with demonic conspiracies?  How about a procedure for summoning Lucifer, Leviathan, Satan, and Belial, and all their subsidiaries, such as the one Abraham provides?   It’s safe to say that whomever wrote Abramelin did not consider being hauled in front of the magistrate to be a major concern.

A more plausible narrative emerges if we consider Abramelin to have been written much closer to 1608.  By that time, a number of supposed eyewitness accounts had circulated of people under the effects of the ointment, on which our author could have drawn.  Also, by this time the practice would have been considered wholly demonic, which fits with the narrative of that section.

This is not the only problematic aspect of Abramelin’s use, On the following page, Hatsis states that by the 1420s “the ointments contained plant-based psychoactive medical drugs as noted by Alonso Tostado and Abraham of Worms.”

As it turns out, however, Abraham mentions the ointment, but not anything regarding its contents.  As a bonus, Alonso Tostado also fails to mention any such ingredients, instead simply speaking of a mixture that made a woman believe that she was joining a company for food and sex, which made her insensible to pain while in effect.

One could make the hypothesis that the most likely content of such ointments was indeed plant-based psychoactive medical drugs, but neither passage says this.  This could be a simple misunderstanding, as Hatsis’ accounts of both authors earlier in the book does not say this, but I think an unwary reader could be led astray by this passage.

In short, although this book was quite informative, I feel that the link to Abramelin is presented more conclusively than it should be without a closer examination of the evidence.  In addition, a person who reads it to find out about Abramelin and its links to psychotropic substances may wish to consult that book more closely.

 

Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 9:28 pm  Comments (3)