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!

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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)  

Brief Notes for January

A few things to enjoy and/or look forward to:

  • I’ve uploaded my article from the Journal for the Academic Study of Magic, “The Role of Grimoires in the Conjure Tradition,” to my Academia.edu account. It’s almost ten years old, but it might be of interest.
  • Scarlet Imprint has opened pre-orders for its latest book, Jinn Sorcery by Rain al-Alim, which includes translations of rituals to summon these creatures from a private collection.
  • I’ll be taping Roejen Razorwire’s Project Archivist podcast on Sunday.  Topics will be grimoires, including the Simon Necronomicon.
  • The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall is hosting a conference on ritual magic in May.  If you can get there, it might be worth checking out.
  • My classic D&D group has just arrived in Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne, one of the settings in a classic module not to be named here.  It’s funny to go to D&D forums and hear people lament the fact that they can’t get the articles on Averoigne that Richard Becker and I wrote for Worlds of Cthulhu.
  • Finishing up our Iron Heroes campaign. I like what the system was aiming to do, but I’m not fond of the execution.
  • My other group has been playing Shadow of the Demon Lord, which I’d describe as an apocalyptic fantasy game like a simplified 5th D&D, but adding complexity by assigning each character three roles as they progress through their careers. Some elements of it seem rough around the edges, but we’re already planning another campaign.
  • The snake is handling the snow and ice well, by simply avoiding them.

 

Published in: on January 19, 2018 at 7:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Necronomicon Files Banned in Texas Prisons

The Dallas Morning News just published a story on a lengthy list of permitted and banned books maintained by penal system in Texas. It features a searchable index of all the books that inmates are not allowed to own.

Being curious as to whether our friend Simon’s books are on it, I ran a quick search – only to find that The Necronomicon Files is on the list!  I’m guessing this is because of one particular piece of art in the book that includes nudity.  As it happens, so is my edition of The Long-Lost Friend

As for Simon? Texas really likes his works. You can check the downloadable list of permitted books in the spreadsheet just above the search box. The Necronomicon Spellbook is listed twice, and, depending upon how you interpret some of the vague entries, Simon’s Necronomicon has been approved between three and five different times.  Even though I don’t particularly care for Simon and his works, I think that he has a perfect right to have them appear.

Other approved works include those of friends of the blog Joshua Free and Kenneth Hite, as are the Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green RPGs. Oh, yes, and the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is free to own.

The list possesses some strange elements. First, some purely academic works on magic, such as Ankarloo and Clark’s Witchcraft and Magic in Europe series, and Seligmann’s Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, aren’t on the list. Second, there are plenty of works on magic on the approved list – run a search for “magic” or “charm” in that spreadsheet – that are probably similar in content to the Friend.

Oh yes – and Neo-Nazi and white supremacist works are perfectly fine.

The takeaway? Censorship is wrong, and its implementation leads people to make bizarre decisions, especially when it comes to works on the occult.

 

Published in: on December 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm  Comments (1)  

Update on the Newberry Book of Magical Charms

Do you recall the news that the Newberry Library in Chicago was transcribing a seventeenth-century British book of spells? I certainly do, because everyone in the world told me about it.

The Chicago Tribune brings us an update, with the usual fake scares and cheesiness, emphasizing just how successful this project was. The entire work has now been transcribed and translated, with a JSON file version available of the entire text.

We can hope that other libraries with similar books might see the success and good publicity from this project and provide us with similar opportunities very soon.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy All Saints Day!

I haven’t had a lot of updates lately, but not due to lack of interest in blogging topics. I’ve got two major projects coming down to the wire right now that require my attention.  Thus, a quick rundown:

  • Yesterday Cornell University opened a great new witchcraft exhibit, displaying the cream of their wonderful collection. The story doesn’t mention the reception, at which they served white chocolate mice with raspberry filling, little eyeballs made out of mozzarella, and miniature cauldrons of chocolate pudding.  If you’re passing through central New York, the exhibit will be open until August of next year.

 

 

  • I can’t recall too many recent releases not noted already that have really gotten me excited.  One good candidate has been José Leitão’s The Immaterial Book of St. Cyprian, a collection of treasure-hunting legends that have involved the works of the famous saint with parallel Portuguese-English text.  If you’re keen on learning more about the Iberian Cyprian beliefs, José has created a Patreon to help with his further Cyprianic researches.

 

  • Another work of interest that appeared recently and completely under the radar was Vedrai Mirabilia: Un Libro di Magia del Quattrocento. This is a fifteenth-century Italian book of magic, edited by Jean-Patrice Boudet, Laurence Moulinier-Brogi, and the late Florence Gal.  I probably won’t run a review of this, as I feel that would require an examination too detailed for me to conduct at the moment.  It does have long sections on astrological talismans and love magic, especially involving wax images, but it also has occasional spots of weirdness, such as naming Hercules as a king of the four directions.

 

  • Gaming update! My Basic D&D Rules Cyclopedia game is now over a year old.  The characters have looted the Caves of Chaos, overcome the Veiled Society, and staved off Night’s Black Terror. They now move to Expert-level play – and if you know the X series of modules and me, you know which one I chose.

 

  • My other group is running through a short campaign of Iron Heroes, the old D&D 3E variant with no magic and lots of – well, some – tokens.   I don’t feel the system does what it sets out to do, perhaps because cinematic action in 3E is often countered by the desire for balance.

That’s all for now.

 

 

Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brief Notes

I’ve been spending a good amount of time researching Elizabethan and Jacobean England for the next book.  This means I’ve been finding other areas to keep my mind active.  Here’s a few:

  • One recent item on my reading list has been An Introduction to Yokai Culture.  It’s got some great chapters on kappa, tengu, and other phenomena and beings at the edge of Japanese culture.  It does focus on the folklore studies of these beings, so there’s a good deal of discussion of theory as put forth in books that likely will never be translated into English, but it’s quite fascinating.
  • I’ve appreciated the offerings in Clavis Journal Volume 4, particularly the article by Eytzinger, “Curse the Eyes of the Thief.” I don’t think anyone’s put it together, but the operations he’s describing are Scandanavian versions of the “Eye of Abraham” ritual for uncovering a thief that is mentioned elsewhere (sorry, no online PDF).
  • I’ve been enjoying reading some classic Runequest works, thanks to Chaosium. I’ve particularly enjoyed Pavis and Big Rubble, a campaign setting filled with history, weird cults, and danger.  I don’t know if I’d run the system – I enjoy old-school games, but it’s even more deadly than Cthulhu, with many more dismemberments.
  • And, just to make matters even more bizarre, I’ve also been listening to the Bulgarian History Podcast.  Treachery, religion, war, and Byzantine (in both senses of the word) intrigue, pulled from historical literature to which most people will never have access.  I recommend it highly.
Published in: on June 25, 2017 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 4 – The Collector’s Perspective

In our past three segments, we’ve dealt with causes of high book prices, some examples of particularly high prices, and the impact of the library market.  At this point, I’d like to turn to the impact of these prices on collectors – including myself.  This part will be more free-form, as I’m still working through my thoughts on the matter.

I purchase a good number of books in this field, as anyone who reads this blog is aware.  These are from a wide variety of different publishers – small and large presses, popular and academic ones, creators of artisanal works and mass-market paperbacks, and even reproductions of manuscripts from various libraries. I also make good use of the libraries at my workplace and those in the area, as well as the growing collection of digitized works in Google Books, the Internet Archive, and Gallica.

The focus of my collection is primary source texts of ritual magic, in various formats, along with historical works putting them into their context in one way or another. The number of such texts have certainly increased in recent years.  Previously, I could expand my purchases into other areas, but I’ve cut down on these considerably – especially for roleplaying games. Yet even now, there are more great books to read, and as we discussed last time, many of them are not making it into libraries.

Further, this is a market in which you can often see unexpected and quick price increases.  It’s true that some of these are due to vendors and bots who inflate prices unduly, but there are often spectacular rises in the amounts for particular books once they go out of print.  Since many of these come from small presses with limited print runs, this means that it’s hard to delay purchases for later.

This is, of course, compounded by the issues regarding libraries that we already identified.  It is likely that any particular academic work will be picked up, perhaps after a few months, by some library in the country from which it might be obtained. The same cannot be said for many of the small – or even medium – press books. For example, The Book of Oberon has done well in terms of sales, but only seventeen WorldCat libraries in the US hold it. That often means that the only way to access a book is to purchase it.

The effect of all this has been to create a market in which books, expensive or not, must often be purchased quickly and through specialized channels if one wishes to obtain them. When there is not an opportunity to do so, the desired book might not be available anywhere in an affordable format.

A fair question is how much any of this literature is necessary for a particular reader.  Given the large amount of material that is available online, it is hard to say that there is a great “need” for materials on the topic in general.  Depending upon one’s particular area of research or spiritual practice, though, certain works may not be available.  I think it is fair to say that the advancement of knowledge makes it important that such works be available to people within reason.  I’m not sure what should be considered “reasonable,” and it’s likely readers will differ greatly on this front, but I think it’s a good principle.

Of course, I’m not just a purchaser of books.  I also write and edit them – and my next entry will deal with that.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 10, 2017 at 8:41 am  Comments (2)