I Have a Problem

So, with the new year, it’s time to admit I have a problem.

I might be addicted to Cornish folklore.

Part of my mother’s side of the family comes from Cornwall, and I’ve made two trips there over the years tooling about West Penwith and seeing the sights.  Over the past month, though, I’ve been compelled to look into it further, starting with the standard works on the area’s folklore and moving on to more obscure journal articles and local publications.

At this point, I’ve got a growing library of small-press publications, and a map with over four hundred separate locations with detailed notes on the legends connected with each.  So I have to figure out what to do with it.

The idea is not to publish scholarly articles, or even Mythos fiction or gaming material.  I do feel myself in need of a creative outlet, alongside the factual publications on magic.  Most likely it would fall into the present market for folk horror (see the original Wicker Man for the most obvious model, but I’d add such movies as Kill List, Wake Wood, and Curse of the Blair Witch, as well as some of the psychogeographic work of Phil Legard and others).  I’m not quite sure as to the format or the venues yet, but I’ll see if I can’t figure out something to do with it.

I suppose the other option is that I’ll get tired of it and never mention it again.  We’ll see.  Suggestions are welcome.

Published in: on January 1, 2015 at 8:29 pm  Comments (4)  
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2014 in Review

This year has been somewhat quiet on the blog front, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, by any means.  James, Joe, and I have been wrapping up our notes on the proofs of The Book of Oberon.  It can be a slog at times, but then I think about how our readers will react when they see the immense work for themselves, and it makes it worth it.

Ben Fernee is hard at work on his latest release, so I’ve been making a few minor tweaks to my articles on witch bottles and wax images that should accompany the Bellhouse book.  I have to say, in a marketplace that has so many derivative books churned out, it’s great to be working on material that’s ground-breaking and has a good potential to stand the test of time.

I tooled around for a while seeking my next big project, and I think I’ve found one.  One aspect (and one of many, I should add) is digging back into the Mesopotamian corpus and dealing with aspects of its beliefs and ritual practices not touched upon much in my previous works.  That’s a long-term project, however, so I might not discuss it here for a while.

I’ve got a couple of publications to announce.  First, my chapter on the Book of Dzyan maybe read in the new anthology The Starry Wisdom Library, along with pieces by Ramsey Campbell, F. Paul Wilson, Don Webb, Wilum Pugmire, Donald Tyson, and many, many others.  Second, the third issue of the Arkham Gazette has been successfully Kickstarted, which will bring my brief folkloric article on Goody Fowler into print.

If anyone was anticipating meeting me at NecronomiCon this coming year, another obligation has taken precedence.  Nonetheless, I hope everyone has a great time, and I hope to see all of you at future conventions.

That’s all for now.  Yiggie and I (or rather, I) wish all of you happy holidays and a great new year!

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (1)  

On the Book of Oberon and Bellhouse

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past months working on getting two books off to publishers.

The first was The Book of Oberon, which was a slog on the part of Joe Peterson and I.  We read through the entire manuscript again – I cannot count the number of times this has occurred – looking for more errors, footnotes that needed to be corrected, and bibliographic entries that needed to be added.  I think those who are interested in grimoires will be very happy with this project.  In fact, they’d better be, lest they risk the wrath of “Hekate, goddess of charmery and invocance.”

One teaser for fans of Jake Stratton-Kent’s works:  the book does contain more operations that call upon the four spirit kings associated with the directions.  They’re not along the lines of the material covered in Jake’s books, but they’re in the incantations multiple times nonetheless.

After handing in our changes to Llewellyn, I turned to looking over the bound page proofs for Liverpool cunning man and galvanist William Dawson Bellhouse’s book of magic.  They look something like this (Atlantis Bookshop bookmark not included):

018

For Caduceus, the best way to indicate changes is to mark up the proofs with red ink and send it back.  Readers will be happy to know that my short articles on witch bottles and wax images, to be included, have undergone a metamorphosis into what might be the most comprehensive and thorough works on those topics.  I’m hoping this will attract a much wider scale of readers to the project.

Also, by popular demand, a snake picture:

021Yiggie is over four years old and three feet long.  Having spent a great deal of time learning about her through both books and personal experience, I have realized that this snake is largely dependent upon me and could not survive in the wild.  I had her  on my shoulders just a few minutes ago, and she nearly fell off onto the floor due to poor planning.  I think she is under the mistaken impression that she still has venom, and legs, and other attributes not granted to her by nature.

Confession:  I also tried her on live food a few months ago, due to a change in eating patterns.  I found that the situation led to deep dissatisfaction, as its mildest expression, from participants of three different species.  The outside party has been given to a good home, and we shall close a curtain on the sordid affair.

That’s all for tonight.

 

Published in: on September 18, 2014 at 10:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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A New England Sojourn

I spent part of last week in New England, with Donovan K. Loucks, keeper of the H. P. Lovecraft Website, and his lovely wife Pam.  I arrived on Tuesday, driving up to Providence after work and ending up quite exhausted.

I wasn’t too exhausted, however, to head into Cambridge to visit the Harvard University Archives, trying to obtain some background that might be useful for future projects dealing with the Widener Library.  My carefully-copied archive number turned out to be illusory, but the staff were very helpful in figuring out what documents might be most relevant for my search – although they’d have to be called the next day.  That was fine with me, and I filled out the rest of the afternoon visiting the Boston Public Library to consult old directories to fill out my knowledge of the place in the Twenties.  After that, I returned to Providence to attend Donovan’s birthday party for H. P. Lovecraft, complete with a one-man retelling of “The Call of Cthulhu” by dramatist David Neilsen and Donovan’s own walking-while-sitting tour through Lovecraft’s Providence.  Also, there was cake.

Lovecraft Birthday Cake

The next day, I was back at the Archives, which I finished rather early.  Having learned the previous day of the outrageous parking rates in Cambridge, I realized it was in my best interest to hang out some more, visiting various bookstores and the Peabody Museum.  On my way out of town, I stopped out of curiosity at the Seven Stars bookstore, only to find perhaps the best store for books on the Western mystery traditions in this country.  I walked out with a few items to fill out my collection, including Kenneth Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time, which will give readers some idea of the place’s comprehensiveness.  I then returned to Providence, and my memory fails me as to what occurred that night.

Friday, we all headed out for the North Shore, in order to investigate the places that might have inspired Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”  We headed north and then worked our way south, beginning with a lengthy stopover in Newburyport, and then heading south through Ipswich, Rowley, Essex, Rockport, and Gloucester, with a lengthy detour at the latter to visit the rock formation, Mother Ann, which served as the inspiration for “The Strange High House in the Mist,” despite the lack of mist and the fact that it was neither high nor house-bearing:

242

We made our way back, stopping in Manchester for groceries and a bookstore, and in Salem for Italian food and a nighttime ramble through the Charter Street Burial Ground and past the house that inspired “The Unnameable.”

Saturday, we had had enough of jetting about, so we played games for most of the day.  We couldn’t sort out A Study in Emerald in time, but we did play Elder Signs and quite a bit of Rock Band.  That evening, we headed downtown to visit the Providence Public Library’s Lovecraft Readathon, after which we headed over for Indian food at Waterfire, which was spectacular as always.

WaterFire Providence

After that, we came back to receive a crushing defeat in the game Witch of Salem, in which you must fight back the forces of darkness while assisting Bob, the Witch of Salem.  The game is much like Arkham Horror in that you’re trying to close gates, save that you are unable to communicate to the other players whether a gate exists at a location.  I speculated that the Witch of Salem was a drama queen who enforced our silence to enhance his own self-importance.

The next day, we played some Rock Band and I drove home.  It’s always great to see the Louckses, and this trip raised my number of “stories inspired by sites in Providence” by two, so it was all for the best.

Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 10:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Book of Oberon Available for Pre-Orders, and a Contradiction, and an Unanticipated Amazon Rant

Amazon has The Book of Oberon available for pre-order for $58.50, with the book being scheduled for April of next year.

Also, I’d appreciate suggestions as to companies other than Amazon to whom I can link for books.  The whole affair with Hachette has left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

For the most part, I’ve been appreciative of Amazon over the years.  Having a single distributor that can consistently stock small and mid-level press titles is a great boon for publishers and authors on specialized topics.   There’s certainly negotiation that goes on behind the scenes on the price of particular points, as there is with any other distributor.  Nonetheless, if that distributor decides to make some books harder to obtain than others, all other factors being considered, then that distributor has really failed.  If your job is to sell people books, and you decide to make it harder to do that, then you’re not doing what you’re supposed to.

There’s a lot from Amazon about how much this benefits authors.  Don’t believe them.  If Amazon wants to sell books for well below retail, that’s making less money for the authors.  Hell, when I wanted an e-book copy of my edition of The Long-Lost Friend to read on Kindle, I had to buy it myself.   I’d say that, taking into account the book trade’s standard contracts, the cuts from distributors, the culture of making scanned copies of books free on the Internet, and the various content aggregators that re-market people’s work for their own profit, this may be the period where authors and other content creators are respected less than any other.

Then again, no one’s planning to burn me at the stake, which means I’m ahead of the game.

So, anyone who wants to send me some independent booksellers with excellent shipping to whom I can link when new books come out, I’d appreciate it.  Otherwise, I’ll be sending people to publishers’ websites more.

ADDENDUM:  I’ve had some objections relating to my Amazon position that I’d like to address.  The most common one is that this is simply a negotiation between a distributor and a publisher.  This is true.  Nonetheless, such negotiations can occur without the largest distributor in the world simply deciding to make vast swaths of information mostly unavailable to the public.  That certainly does not serve its customers, and those customers are free to make their decision to shop elsewhere.

Published in: on August 9, 2014 at 9:57 pm  Comments (9)  

Upcoming Radio Appearance

I’ll be appearing on the show “Where Did the Road Go?” this coming Saturday the 9th from 11-12 on WVBR, 93.5 out of Ithaca, New York.    I’ll be talking about Lovecraft, and likely whatever else people might ask.  You can listen online if you’re not local to Ithaca, so check it out.

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)  

More on Charm Sticks and Charm Wands

After my last post, I wanted to put up another item or two on charm wands that I came across.  The first reference is from Radford and Radford’s Encyclopedia of Superstitions:

CHARM WANDS

Glass wands, shaped like a walking-stick with a curved handle and having hair lines in the glass, or rods filled with a multitude of small coloured seeds, are now sometimes seen in houses where they are kept as curios or ornaments.  Formerly, however, they were hung up as a protection against witchcraft and evil spirits.  It was believed that any entering demon or witch would be forced to count the lines or seeds during the hours of darkness, and would be prevented, while doing so, from enchanting or injuring any person or thing in the house.  Disease and infections were similarly supposed to fly to the wand and to be held there.  In the morning, the evil influences could be harmlessly wiped away with a cloth.

If such a charm-wand was accidentally broken, the omen was bad, and illness or misfortune of some kind was expected to follow.

Next, we have a passage in Nigel Pennick’s Secrets of East Anglian Magic, 2nd edition:

Looking like a glass walking-stick, containing spirals of coloured glass threads, the charm wand was once more than just a collectable curio… The master glassmakers who created them by hand produced magically empowered artifacts with the express function of warding off airborne illness.  The proper way to use a charm wand is to hang it up indoors as a protection against the entry of disease into the house.  To empower the wand, each morning it should be wiped vigorously with a dry cloth, charging it up to trap contagious particles in the air… Naturally, breaking one is an extremely bad omen, and ill is sure to follow.

Now, what you’ll notice about both these sources is how recent they are.  It’s troubling that I was unable to find any earlier sources.  Was I overlooking something?

I asked for some help on this question, and I’ll share what I found with you next time.

 

 

 

Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 10:46 pm  Comments (3)  

Charm Sticks and Charm Wands: A Little-Noted Item of Folklore

Over a year ago, I was kicking about the back roads of Cornwall for a few days.  Having had to revise my itinerary due to confusion about a car registration, I chose to take the bus out to Zennor to see the famous mermaid bench in its church (here’s the legend that surrounds it).   Not knowing what else to visit in Zennor, which is an incredibly small town, I chose to spent a pleasant hour in the Wayside Museum there, which includes a working mill and other relics of traditional life in Cornwall from various eras.  It was there that I saw the following curious item, hanging on a beam over the hearth in the kitchen display:

Charm stick, Wayside Museum, Zennor

Charm stick, Wayside Museum, Zennor

It’s hard to see from the position, but you can see the crook at one end on the left and follow the shaft over Here are the two captions underneath:

Charm Stick

Made of Bristol glass … was hung over the fireplace so that when the little devils came down the chimney at night, they settled on the stick to count the little bubbles and cracks.  In the morning they were wiped off with a rag and the rag burnt!

This stick is of Nailsea glass.  Items like this were often made by apprentices at the end of the day.  It would have been brought back to Cornwall on the ships that carried tin-ore to Bristol for smelting.

Of course, that was the sort of thing that got my attention.  Given all the other scrambling about attached to my trip, I wasn’t able to sit down and think about it until later.  I’ll post more about this in a subsequent entry.  In the meantime, if you’re not making it out to Zennor any time soon, you might take this short video tour.   I believe you can glimpse the end of the stick around the 8:30 mark:

Published in: on June 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm  Comments (4)  

Review: The Testament of Cyprian the Mage

Recently I’ve been reading through the final offering in Jake Stratton-Kent’s “Encyclopedia Goetica” series, The Testament of Cyprian the Mage.  This work follows the True Grimoire (review here and here) and Geosophia (review and response).

This book moves the focus from the previous works on the Grimorium Verum and the Greek mythological and ritual tradition, moving to Iberia, the Americas, and the Middle East.   Stratton-Kent is seeking to move magical practice away from the dualistic model present in much ritual magic from the medieval period in which one calls upon God and the angels to compel demons.  Instead, he examines working with traditions in which one petitions superior spirits of the same hierarchy for the same effects.

To accomplish this, JSK explores the contents of a Sufurino edition of the Testament of Cyprian, most likely dating to the 19th century.  Using the purported author as a spiritual link to the past, he takes us back to the time of the historical Saint Cyprian to examine the magical works that someone of his time and place might consult.  Thus, we have excursions into theurgy, the magical papyri, the Testament of Solomon, Hermetic image magic, and decans.  He also proceeds through the work by Cyprian chapter-by chapter, with a few lacunae where it overlaps with an upcoming work from Joe Peterson.  As he does so, he highlights various aspects of the spirits and procedures within that reflect the views mentioned above, drawing upon necromancy, fairy lore, the four kings present in some medieval magic works, elementals, and the Quimbanda tradition.

One element that is definitely in favor of this particular volume is the bibliography. JSK has picked an absolutely top-notch list of reputable sources to make his arguments.   I have some misgivings about their uses, however.  What the book presents is a grand synthesis of various works, theologies, and ideas, as has been done by individuals such as Levi and Mathers.  As such, someone who incorporates it into their magical practice might find it valuable and evocative, but others will be skeptical as to how far such disparate sources can be stretched.  The following passage near the end (volume 2, p. 197):

The syncretism of Kimbanda associates rusalkis with Pomba Gira Rainha das Almas (Pomba Gira of Souls)…  Lilith is frequently paired with Asmodeus and related figures.  So too the precedent of Exu Lucifer’s pairing with Exu Pomba Gira (Klepoth) implies a similar relationship between the Lucifer of the grimoires and Astaroth.  Sibylia’s equivalence with Lamia (explored in Geosophia) and with Lilith is also echoed in Kimbanda’s syncretism.  The equivalent of Lamia in Kimbanda is Pomba Gira Maria Quiteria, that of Lamashtu, Pomba Gira Rainha da Kalunga.

Your reaction to that passage indicates how you are likely to feel about the Testament.

I am also skeptical as to his overall claim that spirits in the same hierarchy are an older development than spirits in opposition.   I think what would really be required here is an examination of the Mesopotamian anti-demon incantations.  These might not display the dualistic aspect, but it nonetheless engages with how much the demons are agents of the gods or independent operators (sometimes yes, sometimes no), with some interesting variations, such as the curious relationship between Lamashtu and Pazuzu.  Such material would have been available to the Hebrews during the Babylonian activity, and a slight Mesopotamian influence on the magical papyri is also present.  As such, I think that perhaps uncertain relationships between demonic spirits and the celestial hierarchy might pre-date dualistic cosmology, and that this might be a worthy topic to examine.

And yet… even if I have some concerns I really like a number of aspects of this book.  JSK is engaging with a number of interesting topics, ranging from incantations that call upon infernal forces to books of image magic to analyses of the Testament of Solomon and the kings of the four directions.   Due to his desire to cover a vast range of topics, we never get too in-depth with any one of these, but the reader can be referred to the bibliography.  Also, he is absolutely correct in pointing out just how much MacGregor Mathers (and Crowley and Waite, to a lesser degree), are responsible for the popular understanding of the grimoires, and how much of a complex phenomenon these simplified approaches have glossed over.

Overall, the book is probably most valuable for those interested in exploring the themes in JSK’s other works further, or those who aren’t too familiar with occult literature beyond the grimoires found in their bookstore’s occult section.  Fortunately, I think the paperback and ebook options move the work much closer to an affordable range for readers.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm  Comments (2)  

Book of Oberon Cover

Book of Oberon Cover

The cover to The Book of Oberon – for sale next year!

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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