Life Update, A Chapter on Early Modern Grimoires

Picture of a late fall walk

I’m still alive. I’ve been immersed in revisions to The Book of Four Wizards, along with one or two other projects that have prevented me from getting back to Papers for a while.

One piece of feedback was that I should not rely on Of Angels to describe the late seventeenth-century milieu of our first author. I’m dipping back into the literature and records of that time, which is somewhat scanty, to see if I can learn anything new that I can share with you when the book is published.

I finally tracked down Owen Davies’ chapter “Narratives of the Witch, the Magician, and the Devil in Early Modern Grimoires.” I think it’s a mixed bag, although someone who had less familiarity with grimoire literature would probably find it more valuable. I appreciated his analysis of the Faust tradition and the corresponding late appearance of the written pact in grimoires. (I also wish I’d found out that a couple of witch trial pamphlets are believed to be entirely fictitious before I put them in my witch bottle book! So it goes.)

On the other hand, Davies also mentions that books of magic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries don’t recognize the existence of witches… and as the editor of three such books, I can confirm that they do. They’re never a matter of primary importance, but there’s a good number of them in the British tradition.

The usual games proceed apace. There’s been some talk about a new edition of Pendragon, with design diaries on honor and glory, among other topics. I intend to pick it up, but I haven’t seen anything so compelling that I wish to adopt it wholesale. Perhaps future updates will change my mind.

I also heard that some other roleplaying game is getting a new edition. I hope people enjoy it.

That’s all for now. I’ll get back to the review cycle when I can.

Published in: on January 21, 2022 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Miscellanea, Hadean Press Releases, Joe Peterson Updates, Gaming Rant

Here’s my upcoming scholarly and entertainment reading.

Erzebet at Hadean has shared a few recent publications with me, on the shorter variety. The most notable of these is Al Cummins’ edition of The Art of Cyprian’s Mirror of Four Kings, a scrying ritual taken from British Library Sloane 3850. It’s a solid, brief edition of a text combining a few different topics with which modern readers are interested, along with potential notes for practitioners.

The other two, Fr. Robert Nixon’s original translations of Latin texts, may also be worth checking out. One is Brontomantia, a selection from the Venerable Bede’s works dealing with divination by thunder. (Hint: it usually means a lot of people are going to die.) The other is The Wizard Popes of the 11th Century, which expands on the stories of Pope Sylvester II being a magician to allege that other popes among his associates did the same. Both of them are short pieces that present work that has not, to my knowledge, been presented anywhere else.

Among the recent additions to Joseph Peterson’s Esoteric Archives are a lengthy update to his online edition of the Armadel, including many new manuscript links, and an unnoted revision of the page discussing Johann Weyer’s “Pseudomonarchia Daemonum.”

The Black Letter Press edition of pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book will be my next review topic.

There’s a new lawsuit from a Gygax family member’s “TSR” against Wizards of the Coast – or there was, until they decided to suspend it because they filed it in the wrong venue or other reasons. I’ve written for RPGs and read a great deal of older material for my recent five-year Rules Cyclopedia campaign, so I have thoughts.

RPGs are a form of media, and even good media often contains ideas, preconceptions, and stereotypes that don’t age particularly well. For my part, I know that I tried to take a sympathetic and understanding approach toward other cultures, when writing for Call of Cthulhu back in the day. Still, if someone wanted to re-publish any of it, I’d want to look it over again, as I’ve learned more about the world – especially, that listening to people portrayed in a text is important.

Wizards has been slowly placing half a century’s publications for older D&D settings on Drivethrurpg and DM’s Guild, much of it inaccessible for decades. I have greatly enjoyed these publications, but having read a great deal of this, from time to time I came across material with outmoded ideas about gender and ethnicity. Based on the rate of publication and slow efforts to correct quality defects, I seriously doubt there’s even one full-time Wizards employee on the project now. Thus, their strategy has been to add a disclaimer that some of the books might contain problematic material.

Thus, OSR people have been uniformly happy that they could get a vast catalogue of nigh-lost material for their favorite games at an affordable price. Kidding – many are now mad about the disclaimer, of course, and are cheering on a lawsuit by a new “TSR” led by a Gygax brother. Does the lawsuit have anything to do with the disclaimer? Of course not – it’s about the new TSR filing claims on trademarks from older D&D products and other games, then claiming that TSR is infringing on them, which is not how anything works. For more information, you can read Akiva Cohen’s analysis, if you like. Maybe they’ll refile?

I really don’t think these individuals have considered the most likely outcome to any semi-successful suit: Wizards taking down all of these products and making them inaccessible once again. Maybe they’ll figure that out, but probably not.

All right – I’m done. Time to write some project emails.

Published in: on December 11, 2021 at 4:22 pm  Comments (1)  

The Yellownomicon, Stellas Daemonum and an Index Rant, Scholarly Releases, Upcoming Reviews, Dan Being Punchy for Some Reason

That’s right – “the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World” is now available in yellow and pink! See how carefully I’ve treated my copy of this historically significant work.

This was first flagged for me by Bobby D., as an inexplicable image of the Simon Necronomicon he found online. I thought it was just a misprint or badly Photoshopped image. But I found this copy in the local Barnes and Noble. It’s not a misprint, because the back cover and spine are a tan color. Someone thought this was a good idea. I don’t know – maybe it is. Maybe the goth kids these days dress in yellow and tan. As if I’d know.

I picked up Stellas Daemonum, David Crowhurst’s new book from Wiser, dealing with the orders of the demons in various grimoires. (Full disclosure: I was sent a copy to blurb, which I decided I philosophically couldn’t do due to my anti-systematization perspectives.) Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was tempered by Weiser’s omission of a bibliography and an index in the book. It has endnotes – but after that, nothing. It’s as if they just stopped this lovely, hardback, bookmarked tome right at the end.

Look. I’m not going to tell you every book needs an index. Some books are short, some books are organizationally set up to not require one, and sometimes a really detailed table of contents can work wonders. I think professional indexes are better, but my books are indexed based on a word list I created myself, and it seems to turn out fine. Yet, in most cases, books are going to need some sort of index, and a guide to various spirits definitely does. David, if you’re reading this, maybe you should talk to Weiser about putting something online for purchasers?

Richard Kieckhefer has re-released his classic Magic in the Middle Ages in a third edition. Should you get it, if you have one of the previous ones? Here’s what he has to say in the introduction:

…the new edition adds an entirely new chapter (Chapter 7) on angelic magic, a new section (in Chapter 1) on the magical efficacy of words and of illusion, a new section (in Chapter 4) on the archaeology of magic, and reference to numerous recent studies and editions, which are reflected in larger or smaller revisions of the text.

If you don’t own it and are reading this blog, you probably should pick it up.

SISMEL has also released Le Moyen Âge et les sciences, an anthology edited by Danielle Jacquart and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani. It includes one article by Charles Burnett on variant texts of On Talismans (the SISMEL edition of which I reviewed here) and Julien Véronèse on the Key of Solomon. Those two chapters may be the only ones of magical interest, and the book is quite expensive, especially for us transatlantic customers.

Owen Davies, who gave a great talk for Viktor Wynd on Sunday, published a chapter “Narratives of the Witch, the Magician, and the Devil in Early Modern Grimoires” in the new Brill collection Fictional Practice: Magic, Narration, and the Power of Imagination, which is way too expensive. I’ll see if I can’t get it through the library in a few months.

I’ve been sent a review copy of Historiola by Carl Nordblum, which will be followed by Paul Summers Young’s Four Books of Occult Philosophy, largely because I don’t think I can excuse myself from it any longer. Some of you may know I used to post Twitter polls on upcoming reviews. The outcome was either a) me reading the absolute longest book on the list, or b) someone apparently spoofing the polls to make all options equal, presumably a diabolical plan to let me read whatever I wanted. And it worked!

My Slavic game group is a DCC group once again, for a variety of reasons. I hope to return to it when I’ve got a bit more energy and creativity, but right now two groups is quite enough.

Published in: on November 25, 2021 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Relaxation, Upcoming Reviews, Thabit ibn Qurra’s Book on Talismans, Slavic Monsters

I tried to finish two books at once – following two collaborative book chapters at work – so I’m taking it easy for now.

It has allowed me to catch up on my reading. The next review will be The Green Book of the Élus Coëns. I’ve also dipped into the amulets, magical bowls, and Genizah magical texts in the reprint of Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked’s Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity.

I’ve also been dipping into the Post-Vulgate Story of Merlin and a few of the minor Arthurian epics, slightly similar to what Greg Stafford did when writing Pendragon. I mainly underline examples of interesting behavior and values, while writing snarky commentary in the margins.

SISMEL in Italy has released a scholarly edition of a famous text on astrological image magic. From their website:

This book contains a reconstruction of Thabit ibn Qurra’s On Talismans, based on a recently-discovered Judaeo-Arabic text in the Cairo Genizah and the Latin versions. On Talismans, probably written in Baghdad in the late ninth century, was the most authoritative medieval text on the procedure for making talismans that depended for their efficacy on the natural influences of the stars. The Genizah manuscripts also include the first nine talismans of the On the Images on the Decans of the Signs attributed to Ptolemy, a work which forms a natural complement to Thabit’s text and is therefore included in this edition. Editions of the major excerpts of, and quotations from, these two texts in Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, have been added, and the Latin translation of another (lost) Arabic version of Thabit’s text – the Liber prestigiorum Thebidis – made by Adelard of Bath, completes the volume. Adelard’s version adds elements of ceremonial magic (including prayers to spiritual forces) to the effects of the stars. The texts edited here are essential sources for our knowledge of the theory and practice of astrological talismans in the Middle Ages and early modern period.

I’m looking forward to this, although I should note that they do not mention an English version of the text. You can find a non-scholarly edition by John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock here. (UPDATE: I’ve received it, but I haven’t had time to figure out what they’re doing with the text.) is running some of my Slavic monsters I wrote up for my Slavic game. At this point, they’ve published the bayechnik and the preglavica, with four more to come. Check out some of the other submissions while you’re there.

The Viktor Wynd Museum has been holding online lectures on a variety of topics of interest to Papers readers. I’ve been enjoying the Cornish folklore series and the talks by Ronald Hutton. At the end of his talk on fairies, Hutton recommended Jeremy Harte’s Explore Fairy Tradition, which is proving to be even better than I had hoped. American readers should be aware that the Amazon price is well above what the publisher offers. Heart of Albion does ship to the US with Paypal, but you might want to indicate in your email that you’re a real person.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Published in: on October 24, 2021 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Publishing Update

Hey, everyone. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?

My local campus has had a high positivity rate. Although I generally feel safe, working under those conditions can be quite draining – I’m sure many of you are aware of this.

The Book of Four Wizards (provisional title) has been submitted to Llewellyn. S. Aldarnay was nice enough to mock up the circle above, based on the illustrations and instructions in the book. It’s not something shown in the manuscript, as it exceeded the copyist’s ability to draw it – but modern technology and a good artist made it happen.

I’ve also sent in comments on the witch bottle book.

I’ve wrapped my DCC game, with one player betraying the rest to the Court of Chaos and escaping. Given that they all privately agreed with various individuals to betray the others, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them.

My Pendragon and Slavic games are still ongoing.

I’ve got a post or two in the hopper, so I’ll get to them next. One is a review of the second volume of Dr. Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria. So come back soon!

Published in: on September 17, 2021 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Hell and Fairy Article Online, Quoted in Vice, Grimoire Fakery, The Sun of Knowledge Forthcoming, Medieval Rituals, Etc.

We’re past the Palgrave moratorium, so I’ve put up my chapter “Hell and Fairy: The Differentiation of Fairies and Demons Within British Bitual Magic of the Early Modern Period” on Academia. Please feel free to read and quote from it.

I was quoted in a recent article on the Internet Book of Shadows on Vice.

The latest issue of Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft has two articles of note: one on witch bottles by Ann Thwaite, and a survey by Don Skemer of those lengthy magical roll amulets that no one has tried to publish yet (hint). Check out the Societas Magica site for more information on getting it.

The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle has posted on FB about forged grimoire pages turning up on eBay and auction houses. These are usually single sheets with a demonic figure drawn with mystical symbols of various sorts seeming to fill in the space around them willy-nilly. The closest analogy in actual manuscripts are the images of Oberion with the seals of his counselors about him, as shown in Oberon, but these are usually clearly labeled or noted in the context. Most “demon” figures I’ve seen in manuscripts are freestanding or surrounding by text, when they appear at all. I hope that helps readers to make sensible purchases.

I was going to review Agostino Taumaturgo’s Medieval Rituals of Catholic Exorcism, but I’m going to have to give up on it due to typos. Typos are an unfortunate byproduct of writing, and some will stubbornly persist throughout the editing and proofing process even under careful scrutiny. Yet this work includes many errors, approximately one per page, and many that a simple spellcheck would catch. I gave up after finding a section that had some untranslated passages of Latin left in the middle of the English. I think it would be worth reviewing in a revised edition, but I’m not certain I could recommend it now.

Revelore Press, publishers of Svartkönstbocker, are now releasing a book of selections from the Shams al Ma’arif, a famous grimoire with which I’ve had some interesting encounters (here, here, and here) but never read.

The Sun of Knowledge (Shams al-Ma‘arif) is one of the most revered historical grimoires of the Arabic corpus. Feared by some, hallowed by others, it is one of the most famous – or infamous – books in the Arabic-speaking and Islamicate world. Written in Egypt in the thirteenth century by a Sufi mystic and mage of Algerian origin, the Shams presents the fundamentals of Arabic-Islamic occult work – from spiritual cosmology and astrology (including various particularly lunar magics) to working with spirits and jinn, magical employment of letters and numbers, and the occult applications of the Qur’an – thereby comprising a veritable encyclopedia of Islamicate magical wisdom and formulae. Images and descriptions of amulets and talismans adorn it. Numerous beautiful manuscripts of the Sun of Knowledge have survived, various of which have been used as a basis for this present work.

Never before published in English, this selected translation includes sections of the Sun of Knowledge on the mysteries of the letters, astrological timings, lunar mansions, the ancient Arab beliefs surrounding the stars, planetary matters, astronomy, the angels for and workings pertaining to the four seasons, summoning the jinn, the employment of the names of God for many and varied purposes, the construction of the famed ring of Solomon, and a miscellany of tried-and-true talismans. This selected translation takes a general approach to a much vaster text, and features illustrations, original artwork, and commentary to assist those unfamiliar with Islamic magic and culture. This edition is also ideal for any student of magic or the occult, classical Arabic astrology and astronomy, Islamic esotericism, or Sufism.

I’m somewhat disappointed that it isn’t the entire book – but the entire book is over a thousand pages, so who am I kidding?

Mihai Vârtejaru presents an exploration of the sources of the Hebrew Key of Solomon, which I encourage you to check out.

Pendragon and my Slavic game continue, and I might talk more about them in the future. Stay safe, everyone.

Published in: on August 14, 2021 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

A Few Short Travels, Writing Project Update, Reviews, A New Jake Stratton-Kent Book, Bulgarian-Slavic and Arthurian Gaming

I’ve made a few small trips lately. Last month, I made an excursion to Michigan, where I spent some time with my family watching muskrats swim lazily across a pond. I was able to visit the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic for the first time in about two years on my way back.

Today I made a quick excursion to Kingston and Woodstock, where I prowled bookstores and metaphysical shops. It’s good to get out of the house and around people, especially when the fall is still a question mark. I do miss going to the UK, but the situation there would need to change considerably before I do. Maybe next year?

The witch bottle revisions are almost done, and I’m re-reading the whole book to try to smooth out how the prose flows. There are some sections of the Book of Four Wizards that need to be examined more closely, especially on some Latin where the author seems to have been copying without understanding what was written. If all goes according to plan, these will be off to the publishers on schedule – and you’ll see them soon.

In the review queue, I’ve just finished Trollrún, and I’ve begun work on Agostino Taumaturgo’s Medieval Rituals of Catholic Exorcism. I have many, many books in the queue right now, and I hope to have some time to get to them in the fall. Review copies usually jump to near the front.

Hadean has released another book by Jake Stratton-Kent, The Sworn and Secret Grimoire:

A ‘Guide to Grimoiring’ is well overdue, with unqualified persons claiming to fill the gap only to muddy the waters further. Simplifying the processes involved is unhelpful, what is required is to render them comprehensible and ‘user friendly’ in a time where they are regaining their deserved prestige as monuments of a tradition preceding the Christian era while nonetheless rooted in it. These processes are demanding and require both work and study in order to succeed. So too the ‘by rote’ attitude exhibited by some writers on the subject requires a counterblast. Forging and reforging grimoires has always been a part of their real nature; in a metallurgical as well as a literary sense. Ritual composition from scratch is a neglected but necessary skill, requiring a qualified and informed approach, which the current work addresses. So too this handbook departs from the homogenised ‘Solomonic’ form, drawing instead on the great iconoclast and revitaliser of tradition, Paracelsus. While avoiding Christophobia, the implications for a more pagan (or pagan friendly) approach to the grimoires, compatible with the Greek Magical Papyri and other predecessor forms, are greatly increased by this shift of emphasis.

My DCC game has wrapped up, and we’re moving to a biweekly game in a Bulgarian-Slavic setting of my own design, using Moldvay B/X as a chassis and a dash of Mörk Borg (which Phil has asked me to review). The goal is to be more gritty and grounded in folklore of a particular area. I’ve wanted to run it for a while, and the group is responding well to it so far – so well I need to do worldbuilding on the fly. (If you’re a player reading this, this is a lie.)

Pendragon… is continuing. I think some of the players are finding interesting ways to disrupt the world.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

Published in: on July 25, 2021 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stealth NYC Trip, Fairies under the Elders, Online Manuscripts, Anti-Semitism in Magical Works

I made a quick trip to NYC to drop off a copy of the Bellhouse book at the NYPL. I didn’t schedule time to see others – just stopped at a couple of shops, grabbed some Middle Eastern food, and headed back upstate. I hope to visit again soon.

My article, “The Herb and the Lady under the Elder at Noon: Analysis of an Early Modern Magical Ritual,” has appeared in the fifth issue of The Enquiring Eye, the journal of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

I’ve found a few works of interest in the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland. This short copy of a book purporting to be Faust’s Höllenzwang might be the sort of thing Papers readers should like.

Phil Legard notes that the Lecouteux book I showed in the last post has some problematic content. Having looked at it, I can confirm one of the passages chosen has one anti-Semitic account which I’m not sure adds much to the work. Admittedly, even my own books do include statements from our early modern authors blaming the Jewish people unfairly, as many authors of the time did. I’m going to be doing my best to note such passages and their significances as I go forward.

The Precious Apothecary review will appear next week.

Published in: on June 13, 2021 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review: Clavis Goetica

I’m going to leap in the review queue slightly to handle a book sent to me for review: Clavis Goêtica: Keys to Chthonic Sorcery, by Frater Acher and José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal and published by Hadean. This is a review of the hardback, which is currently unavailable but will be re-released this summer. The softcover is currently available.

Frater Acher begins with a discussion of the significance and history of the concept of goetia, or “goeteia,” dealing with its roots in the Greek practice of the itinerant magicians and the goetes. He follows this with a mythic narrative of the interactions between the Idaean Dactyls, spirits and magicians responsible for teaching the civilized arts, the profundity and uncontrolled immensity of the Earth Mother. He then relates this to the appropriation of this energy by ritual magic practitioners, with the goetes serving as a bridge between the boundary-setting magicians and the primordial forces.

I respect the desire to innovate in magical practice, yet it should be said that some historians, including some whom Frater Acher quotes, would disagree with some of his points, including his characterization of “goeteia” as something of a floating term which did not necessarily point to a particular practice. Likewise, one might accept that the core of the practice described here is in personal spiritual gnosis, not in books – but we should also note Plato’s report of itinerant practitioners dealing with souls of the dead utilizing books attributed to Orpheus and Musaeus. None of this stands in the way of a basis of practice, but I’d suggest reading the works Frater Acher cites in this section if you want to get a better handle of the history.

Frater Acher touches on his modern practice of spirit contact within a cave in the Alps – although the spirits have not granted permission to share more than one early operation. He then turns to a discussion of those seeking interactions with spirits in medieval history, including one account from Cesarius of Heisterbach circa 1200, another attributed to the sixteenth-century Christian mystic Johannes Beer, and the Norse tradition of “sitting out” to contact spirits.

The centerpiece of the book, at least from my perspective, is the translation of the brief “Ars Phythonica” text from the Leipzig magical library, which provides two . Frater Acher postulates convincingly that the title is a corruption of “Ars Pythonica,” linking the text back to earlier traditions of female mediumship. He then proceeds to discuss various traditions of the use of skulls for the purposes of divination, ranging from the PGM to the Hygromanteia.

I think much of the material here is intriguing, and it might be worth pursing an expansion on both the seeking out of chthonic spirits and the use of skulls in magic. For example, Scurlock’s Magical Means of Dealing with Ghosts in Ancient Mesopotamia provides rituals for pitting the spirit of a skull against another for protective purposes. Another source not mentioned here is the Picatrix, which includes procedures similar to the folktale of the Maharil he describes.

Frater Acher concludes his analysis by highlighting one particular aspect of the Ars Phythonica:

…the first version further breaks down traditional magical patterns by actively calling upon the help of both celestial and chthonic hierarchies in a single conjuration… Such a deeply pragmatic approach – transcending the traditional polarity between theurgy and goêteia – highlights the essentially shamanic nature of this ritual… Such striking boldness and independence of spirit was just as rare during late medieval times as unfortunately remains today. (p. 125)

So, I was able to come up with three examples of mingled “celestial-chthonic” incantations from The Book of Oberon alone within ten minutes. It’s not necessarily common in rituals, but it’s not unheard of, and I don’t think Oberon is outstanding in this regard.

Overall, I’d be cautious about Frater Acher’s statements about what is “traditional” – traditional for whom? – or what is “shamanic,” or why we should necessarily put those two things in opposition. These labels say a great deal more about how contemporary authors and practitioners view medieval and early modern ritual magic, not to mention other spiritual tradtions, than its source material, which is weird and wonderful stuff filled with patterns that can be broken in exciting ways. Although I wouldn’t rule out that there are norms that some texts might transgress, I think that a broader look at the corpus would be necessary to make any sort of definitive statement along those lines. 

The book ends with an afterward from Sabogal, whose art graces much of this book. Sabogal discusses the magical significance of the head throughout history and in the context of his own art and experience, which ties the work together nicely. The book ends with a bibliiography but no index.

Overall, my reaction to the book is positive. I always welcome an edition of a hitherto-unpublished magical text, and the historical material is intriguing and worthy of further exploration. My concerns arise from the work’s engagement with mythmaking in ways that may be important for creation of magical mindsets but present debatable interpretations of the evidence. Even if that last sentence bothers you, however, I think it’s a worth seeking out and reading.

Published in: on June 5, 2021 at 10:50 am  Comments (2)  

Book Shopping at Long Last, Upcoming Reviews, Open Access Books on Magic, Slavic Folklore, Cultural Appropriation

Lecouteux, Travels to the Otherworld; Reed, Recared’s Unclean Pamphlet; Pennick, Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots

I went out of town this weekend to see my family for the first time since December 2019. Along the way I got to re-visit some of my favorite bookshops, as you can see above. Please feel free to ask me about any of these items.

I finished Precious Apothecary on the plane, but I need to write it up and get a couple things in order before I do. I also received a reviewer’s copy of Acher and Sabogal’s Clavis Goêtica, which will probably be the next item on my list.

If you’re interested in scholarly books on magic, Owen Davies has been posting links to some excellent open access works, including Beyond the Witch Trials, Witchcraft Continued, and The Materiality of Magic.

A small group of friends was hoping to learn something about Slavic folklore, so I invited Katarina Pejovic, author of Balkan Folk Magic: Zmaj, to speak to them. It was wonderful – it takes talent and a considerable depth of knowledge to talk about Serbian dragon lore for an hour and a half, while making it clear that a dozen other topics could be addressed with equal depth and fervor. I recommend her highly to anyone seeking a speaker on this topic.

Some of my FB friends have been circulating links to a Patheos article “Cancelled for Renovations: More Thoughts on Closed Practices” by Thumper Marjorie Forge, dealing with the usage of spiritual practices from other cultures. I think the author is moving in a good direction, yet there are points with which I disagree intensely. I’ll summarize briefly:

  • Cultural appropriation is not itself bad; instead, it is a neutral concept that become problematic when people from historically advantaged backgrounds appropriate practices from people who are historically disadvantaged. In those circumstances, the people, the history, and the practices appropriated may yield different answers for different people.
  • If one is practicing using elements of the cultures of historically disadvantaged groups, consideration of those groups should not be absent from practice or life. Forge offers an example of five individuals working with “Sokovian” culture. I do think that seeking out transactions with indigenous artisans is a good step, but none of these hypothetical practitioners discuss, learn about, or find ways to address the conditions that led to or maintain the Sokovians’ marginalized status, such as a robot army destroying their capital. This could include talking to people from the culture in an open-minded way, seeking out local media, supporting relevant legislation, or any number of other practices.
  • Many of the approaches I see here and elsewhere adopt a “checklist” mentality to cultural appropriation. All someone needs to do is avoid X, Y, and Z, and they will be Good People Not Doing Anything Wrong. I think it is more useful to periodically engage in self-reflection: Has my understanding of this practice changed? Do I know more about those who historically practiced this spirituality? How does that affect my life and my approach? The answers will be different based on the person, the culture, and the practice, of course.

Take care of yourselves, and I’ll talk to you more later.

Published in: on May 26, 2021 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment