My English Excursion, Part 3

(Part 1 and Part 2)

The next day saw my parents, C—–, and I repair to Boscastle, to visit the Dew of Heaven conference at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. My attendance was an odd coincidence; I’d simply contacted the museum when I knew I was in the area, and they asked me if I wanted to speak. I did, but I didn’t want to cut too far into my family’s vacation. Thus, my parents dropped off C—– and I at the Wellington Hotel and made their way off to parts unknown, telling me they would return for my talk.

They didn’t, which was somewhat disconcerting, given that Boscastle is a cellphone dead zone. The hotel graciously allowed me to phone them – but it turns out they were also out of reception!

Dan Harms Presentation on William Dawson Bellhouse

Nonetheless, my talk on the galvanist and cunning man William Dawson Bellhouse was very well-received. If you want to hear it for yourself, check it out on the Folklore Podcast. I also had good conversations with Jake Stratton-Kent, David Rankine, and Christina Oakley-Harrington. Many thanks to Judith, Peter, and everyone at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic for putting on this conference.

Eventually my parents showed up and told me that they had forgotten that I was speaking. So it goes.

I also had a great chat with Heather Freeman (UNC-Charlotte), who is filming Familiar Shapes, a documentary dealing with early modern beliefs in familiar spirits. I was able to provide her with some data relating to magical manuscripts and how it might relate to the witch trials, along with a picture from the weird 1665 edition of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft depicting a demon-haunted volcano.

I’d have liked to stay more, but I wanted to leave before it got dark. I made a quick run through the museum itself, for the requisite Black Philip selfie, after which we all piled into the car and headed back to Penzance.

Dan Harms, Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Black Philip

Next time – megaliths, fairies, and saints!

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Published in: on July 14, 2018 at 8:01 am  Comments (2)  

Review – Speculum Terrae: A Magical Earth-Mirror from the 17th Century

I’m sure most readers are familiar with the use of mirrors in magical operations to speak with spirits – but how common was such practice? We may never know the answer, but Frater Acher has given us a special opportunity to examine one of these items – albeit second-hand – through a new publication from Hadean Press, who were nice enough to send me a review copy.

The book is tiny in size but rich in content. While researching Cyprian, Frater Acher found an Erdspiegel (“Earth-Mirror”) in the archives of Michelstadt, Germany. These mirrors, used for treasure-hunting, consisted of a pane of glass, one or more sheets of paper with magical seals, a thin layer of dirt, and a container for the whole. Not only had the mirror survived for three hundred years, it had been the subject of an article in the Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde by Professor Richard Wünsch in 1904.

After the introduction, Frater Acher provides us with a translation of the good professor’s article, which not only discusses the particular mirror, but also the lore surrounding these devices dating back to Babylonian times. We then move to an examination of the object that has come down to present times, along with the four magical seals that populate it. Acher attempts to place the diagrams and words on these in the context of other magical works, a difficult task given the unique nature of some of the elements. He does manage to trace one of the designs back to a seventeenth-century Rosicrucian treatise, thus providing an example of how that mystical philosophy might have impacted magical praxis.

Acher ends the book with a brief treatise on the significance of earth in folklore, especially of the Germanic variety. A comprehensive bibliography follows. The book has no index, but it is short enough that this is no real detriment.

One question remains unanswered: the paper seal provided in the Wünsch article does not match up with the ones found in the surviving mirror in the archives. Acher hypothesizes that it might have been lost in the interim – yet the professor does not note the presence of the other four paper discs. Further, Wünsch’s article states the box that contains the paper and glass is leather, but the one in the archives is paper. Are we dealing with two separate objects?

This is a small but excellent work that will appeal to those who are interested in magic mirrors and magical treasure-hunting, or who seek a chthonic model of divination for their personal practice.

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 11:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

My English Excursion, Part 2

We left off in our travelogue with a member of our party vanishing on Bodmin Moor. The rest of us decided to go back to the car and eat pasties, until I ventured forth again – only to be called back by C—–, who had ventured back to the road and thence to our car park.

With the group once again complete, we departed to fulfill my mother’s request to see a stately manor house. Thus, we braved the rain to walk to the manor of Lanhydrock. My mother wished to visit the home of a prominent family, and I had come to see the place for which the infamous John Tregeagle – described at different points as a man, a ghost, a giant, and a big bird – was known.

(What – you think I actually took pictures of the house itself? Do you take me for someone who takes consistent vacation photos? Fine – here’s a shot of the kitchen.)

Lanhydrock Kitchen

Sadly, Tregeagle had left no trace in the manor. To find out anything, I knocked on the door of the archive, and the nice people therein were willing to give me a potted background of the man.

John Tregagle Biography

We were moving rapidly through the building, until we were delayed by a glorious library, one of the county’s largest theological collections of the time. The books could not be taken off the shelf and the organization was uncertain, but a quick scan did turn up Wierus’ De praestigiis daemonum and a few minor works by Agrippa. There was also a work devoted to remedies written by a past owner, but I was unable to access it.

A former owner's notebook and Wierus

Agrippa Works at Lanhydrock

Satisfied and thoroughly damp, we made our way back to Penzance.

Next time – magic in Boscastle, and another curious disappearance!

Published in: on July 3, 2018 at 7:31 pm  Comments (2)  

Forthcoming – The Secrets of Solomon: A Witch’s Handbook from the Trial Records of the Venetian Inquisition (Peterson)

Let’s lead with the link, because I’m sure some of you read the words “Solomon,” “witch,” “Inquisition,” and “Peterson,” and already want to buy it.

For those who still need to be sold…

This grimoire, or handbook of magic, was confiscated by the Venetian Inquisition in 1636 from practicing witches. After decades of searching for this elusive text, I now have the pleasure of presenting and translating it here for the first time. It contains their secret techniques for dealing with the more dangerous spirits or daemons, intentionally scattered and hidden within a collection of “secrets” comprising many detailed examples. Together these provide enough clues to enable practitioners to create their own spells for working with all the spirits cataloged. It distinguishes itself as a supplement to the better known Clavicula Salomonis (“Key of Solomon”); whereas that text focuses on aerial spirits, this one focuses on chthonic spirits. This text is one of the primary original sources for the popular Grimorium Verum.

I think that should do it for everyone else, but just in case… did I mention it’s only $19?

Published in: on June 29, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Review – Edward Poeton: The Winnowing of White Witchcraft

While at Treadwell’s on my UK trip, I picked up Cunning Folk: An Introductory Bibliography, which is out of date but still fascinating. One key work mentioned within was a work by the early seventeenth physician Edward Poeton, “The Winnowing of White Witchcraft,” which only existed in manuscript form in Sloane 1954. I was trying to figure out whether I should spend time at the British Library tracking it down, and I was happy to see that Poeton’s work had just been published by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. The book doesn’t even seem to have made its way to Amazon, but fortunately one of my local libraries came through for me on a copy of this important primary source on early modern cunning folk, their practices, and the arguments for and against their practices.

First, a few caveats. Winnowing is a thin paperback, and the price point of $45 is more than I’d be willing to spend. Even though this work is of direct use in my research, I’m really on the fence about whether I should purchase it. Further, the bulk of the text replicates the spelling of the original. This is fine for two of the speakers, but the third…

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Poeton’s Winnowing is an unpublished treatise on the cunning folk.  As with many such works at the time, it is written in the form of a dialogue, in which a wise and knowledgeable teacher instructs a student in error who is nonetheless willing to ask questions and learn. In Winnowing, we have three parties: a clergyman with a doctorate in divinity, a physician, and the country squire who has been promoting cunning folk. The first two are intelligible, but Poeton has placed the squire’s words in a bizarrely spelled depiction of a local dialect which is quite difficult for modern readers.

The arguments that the doctor and the physician use are somewhat lacking, but what should interest today’s readers are the perspectives they take, illustrative of contemporary attitudes, and some of the details they give. We do get the names and/or locations of particular cunning folk active at the time, for instance. There are also one or two tidbits on interesting folk and magical practices I haven’t run into elsewhere, such as the carving of crosses into trees around a field to drive off fairies, or that spirits called up by a magician with a hazel wand should kiss that wand, extended beyond the circle (similar to the table ritual in Oberon which involves a fairy kissing a scepter).

Simon Davies, the editor, does a fine job in providing the background for the book and some initial notes on cunning folk practice at the time. He also provides numerous footnotes for the text itself, a list of Biblical references, an index, and a bibliography to supplement it.

I did like this book, but I think the price point, language, and focus – not to mention the present distribution method – will keep it out of the reach of many readers, which is a shame. Nonetheless, if you’re researching seventeenth-century magic or the historical nature of cunning folk, this is worth tracking down.

Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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!

Published in: on June 13, 2018 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

Forthcoming – A Cunning Man’s Grimoire

I missed posting this one during my trip.

Golden Hoard is back with another publication of a book of magic – A Cunning Man’s Grimoire. Here are some details:

It is a composite grimoire drawn from a number of different sources. It is not the sort of grimoire which has a complete method of calling up a set register of spirits, like the Goetia, nor does it have a wide range of pentacles or talismans like the Key of Solomon.

It is however quite special as it was also was a practising Cunning man’s grimoire, a very interesting blend of learned and local village magic. It also contains a lot of critical astrological information (including its own set of astrological tables) which are an important part of magic, but which don’t feature to a large extent in other grimoires. It goes way beyond Planetary days and hours, to detailed aspects of timing and also contains magical operations connected with the 28 Mansions of the Moon and image magic, which were usually absent from Solomonic grimoires.

Having talked with David Rankine in Boscastle, I should add that it has at least some operations relating to ritual magic, and that it’s from the sixteenth century.  I’ve ordered a copy, and I’ll be reviewing it when it arrives.

Published in: on June 5, 2018 at 7:27 pm  Comments (5)  

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  Comments (1)  

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  

A Review of Medicine, Magic, and Art in Early Modern Norway: Conceptualizing Knowledge

I just finished a book that I know most of you will not want to read. But if you’re interested in grimoire manuscripts, you definitely should give Ohrvik’s Medicine, Magic and Art in Early Modern Norway: Conceptualizing Knowledge a look through your local library. (This was a purchased copy, and I’ve got a chapter appearing in an upcoming release from the same publisher.)

Note that I didn’t actually say you should purchase this book. This is for two reasons. First, it’s $100 retail, which is quite expensive.

Second, there’s the binding. As you may have noticed, although I do appreciate a beautifully bound work, I don’t go into raptures about such things. My appreciation of a book as an art object is mitigated by my desire to read it, stack it up, carry it around in my laptop bag for weeks, etc., all of which is made more difficult if it’s nice. But I draw the line when a publisher is asking $100 for a book in which you can hear the glue cracking as you read it. (I’m talking to them about it right now.)

The irony of this is that Ohrvik’s work is dedicated to various aspects of the black books of Norway. Given the censorship prevalent in the Norwegian and Danish press, magic typically traveled through oral transmission or handwritten works. Ohrvik examines many different exemplars of the latter, emphasizing their physical appearance, titles, attributions, and textual organization.  These are aspects of grimoires often overlooked when contemporary occult scholars study such works, so her perspectives on these issues are quite valuable.

Let’s take the size. From the opprobrium directed against these books, one might expect that the compilers would seek to keep them in the smallest size possible. If the surviving books are any indication, however, the most common sizes were the larger quarto and octavo formats. This, along with the wear placed upon them, suggests that the black books of Norway were kept secreted away in households for use, rather than carried on the person to be consulted in other settings.

Another section is devoted to those responsible for such books – whether we define them as authors, copyists, compilers, or the figures to which they are attributed. This brings us to St. Cyprian, and there is considerable discussion of this figure as relates to the attribution of these works and his purported areas of expertise.  There’s only so far that manuscript titles and introductions can take us when assembling a picture of Cyprian, and Ohrvik supplements it through discussing similar traditions in the rest of Europe – although she misses the Iberian examples, for some reason.

Yet it’s not perfect, as setting content analysis aside doesn’t always provide the entire picture. For example, Early Modern Norway has an excellent discussion of claims many black books make to originate in Wittenberg – yet it is silent on the question of how much of the content of these works might actually have their origins from that city, or other German sources. Likewise, Ohrvik elsewhere hypothesizes that the authors’ inclusion of elements more common in prestigious printed books shows a recognition that private works might eventually become more public. If we consider the content of the manuscript, however, as an expression of and adjunct to the magical efficacy of its owner, we might see that imitating a prestigious format of publication may be a strategy of legitimizing both the contents and one’s own magical practice.

This is not to say that this work is not valuable, but that future collaborations between those examining the physical aspects of the books and their contents might yield even more fruit.

I would have appreciated it if Orhvik had included a lengthy catalogue of the manuscripts covered in the book. This is only a minor concern, however, as most of them are fully digitised online by the University of Oslo.

Thus, if you’re interested in learning about what we know about books of magic beyond the charms and incantations therein, this one may be for you, although you should note my concerns about price point and quality above. If you prefer the magical formulae itself, please feel free to give it a pass.

 

 

 

Published in: on May 5, 2018 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)