by

Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic – by Nicholas E. Brink

No comments yet

Categories: germanic, goddesses, runes

Beowulf's Ecstatic Trance Magic coverBlessed with a cumbersome title that surely no one has ever thought to use before, or since, Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic by Nicholas E. Brink is part of a metaphysical subgenre, pioneered by anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, in which it is argued that image of figures in ancient artworks are ritual instructions, providing templates for postures that could be used to enter altered states of consciousness. Goodman’s ideas were brought to a wider metaphysical audience in Belinda Gore’s Ecstatic Body Postures: An Alternate Reality Workbook (published in 1995 by the Inner Traditions imprint Bear & Company), while Goodman herself would release Ecstatic Trance: New Ritual Body Postures co-authored with Nana Nauwald in 2003. Others have since explored the theory, and while Goodman and Gore largely emphasise figures from Mesoamerica, Brink has taken a more European focus.

This is certainly not Brink’s first ecstatic trance rodeo either, having previously published three such titles, The Power of Ecstatic Trance, Trance Journeys of the Hunter-Gatherers and Baldr’s Magic: The Power of Norse Shamanism and Ecstatic Trance. Despite the Baldr of the title, the latter book has cover art featuring the ithyphallic Rällinge statuette, usually assumed to depict Freyr, but oh well, never mind as that’s nothing compared to a more recent outing from Brink, called Loki’s Children, which has a figurine from the Pre-Columbian Zacatecas culture as its cover star.

Unlike other titles in this genre, Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic is not a practical guide, and offers something rather different, with what little instruction there is being largely embedded within a fictionalised narrative. We say fictionalised but Brink presents it as a real account, channelled through him by its participants, and thereby effectively testifying to the efficacy of the system of ecstatic postures as a way to connect with the past. This is not a new writing approahc for Brink as his Baldr’s Magic, whilst featuring some practical instructions, had as its lion’s share an entire Lost Edda of the Vanir, all channelled to him during his trance experiences.

Beowulf's Ecstatic Trance Magic spread

The story that Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic tells begins not with the Beowulf of the title, but rather with Wealhþ?ow, as Brink’s channels a narrative describing the early life of the girl that would become queen to Hr?ðg?r, the Danish king who employed Beowulf to kill the monster Grendel. In Beowulf, Wealhþ?ow is a member of the Wulfings, though the poet does not locate the clan geographically, with other Scandinavian sagas associating them with the Swedish province of Östergötland, while more recent interpretations identify them with the Wuffing dynasty of East Anglia, at whose court the poem may have been composed. While Skjöldunga saga tells how Roas (Hr?ðg?r) married the daughter of an English king, and Hrolfs saga kraka, says that he (named Hróarr in the text) married the daughter of a king of Northumbria, Brink goes with a Swedish interpretation, placing young Wealhþ?ow in Scania as the daughter of a King Olaf. Joining Wealhþ?ow in this cast is a priestess of Freyja who is rather awkwardly called Vanadisdottir, with a matronym used as if it was her first name. Although this is no less awkward than having a Swedish princess being incongruously addressed throughout by the Anglo-Saxon name she would only be given two centuries later by the Beowulf poet. As an aside, Brink acknowledges that Vanadisdottir, along with two other shamans who provide perspectives, Healfdall and the patronym-as-first name Forsetason, were unnamed in his initial experiences until he himself named them; a strange omission for the etheric realm to make.

Brink’s story is principally told from the perspectives of Wealhþ?ow and Vanadisdottir, charting the latter’s journey to the role of queen and the former’s role first as an advisor to her charge and then as someone who comes to understand Grendel and his predations. And yeah, about that… this version of Grendel seems to have undergone a Disney-style sympathetic villain reboot. No longer is he a mere despoiler of Heorot, and instead of being a deaþscua (‘death-shadow’) and helle gast (‘hellish spirit’) descended from Cain, he is a gentle creature who keeps to himself unless provoked by the warriors in Heorot and their raucous goings on. And while he might attack those who lust for power and wealth and seek to control the earth, this kinder, cuddlier Grendel doesn’t prey on farmers and those at one with nature and all its lovely creatures.

Beowulf's Ecstatic Trance Magic spread

As the story progresses, Brink has Vanadisdottir introduce ecstatic postures as part of the narrative, with each presented as a full page diagram with instructions and a little footnote giving its provenance. There are ten postures in all and they are drawn from geographically, culturally and temporally diverse sources; though mercifully, none as far afield as Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. There is what Brink calls the Freyr Diviner posture (based on aforementioned ithyphallic Rällinge statuette), the Bear Spirit posture (a healing posture identified and named as such by Felicitas Goodman), the Sami Lowerworld posture (based on a engraving of a prone noaidi from Johannes Schefferus’ 1673 book Lapponia), the Tanum Sky World posture and the Tanum Lower World posture (both taken from amongst the many Bronze Age petroglyphs at Tanum, Sweden), the Hallstatt Warrior posture (which, contrary to the name of the posture, is based, though uncredited, on a figurine found in Bregnebjerg, Denmark), the Freyja Initiation posture (based on the famous pendant found at Aska, Sweden, that is assumed to be of Freyja), the Nyborg Man posture (based on a small gold figure, found at Nyborg, Denmark), the Højby Middle World posture (based on a figure found at Højby, Denmark, and which is also used on this book’s cover), and the Cernunnos Metamorphosis posture (as seen in the horned figure on the Gundestrup cauldron).

Surprisingly, given his starring role in this book’s title, it takes until page 202 for Beowulf to turn up as an active participant, almost as an afterthought with only twelve pages to go. One supposes that his name has a greater cachet than the less recognisable and less marketable Wealhþ?ow or Vanadisdottir, but given that he’s the one with the ecstatic trance magic in the title, you can’t help feeling a little swerved. This is especially so when it turns out how he doesn’t do any ecstatic trance magic at all, and everything pretty much proceeds as the poet told it: Grendel attacks, Beowulf fights him until the monster flees mortally wounded, and then Grendel’s mother seeks revenge on Heorot the following night and is also killed by Beowulf. The only difference is that Brink’s Vanadisdottir is flitting around being a little concerned and sympathetic, since Grendel is just misunderstood, but doing nothing.

Beowulf's Ecstatic Trance Magic spread

Brink’s narrative is certainly detailed but it ultimately doesn’t ring true and feels like fan fiction or a first attempt at a fantasy novel. All the tropes are there: the headstrong princess who nevertheless has obligations to destiny and family, the oh-so-wise spiritual elder who teaches lessons of both life and magic with a matter-of-fact manner and a knowing smile. Even the embedding of actual techniques into the conceit of a historical story seems like something we’ve seen before, think The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates, for example.

Another issue that will gnaw away at the pedant is that Brink presents his characters and their beliefs as if Germanic pagan belief was geographically monolithic, with the same pantheon and myths spread across the population, whether the stories be told in Sweden, Denmark, or Snorri Sturluson’s post-conversion Iceland. Indeed, Snorri is important to mention here because the myths as they are told by Brink’s characters have the relative coherence of Snorri’s eddas: gods have very defined roles and their stories are clearly told, reflecting what we now know of them with centuries of hindsight, but which may never have existed in such a way for the people of Denmark at the time. There’s no suggestion, for example, of the variations of the tales as told by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum, with Baldr being imagined here as a compassionate milquetoast in a loving relationship with Nanna, rather than, as Saxo tells it, the unsuccessful suitor of Nanna who battled his rival, the successful Höðr, as a result. The only variance from a Snorri-style canon is when Brink applies his own unverified personal gnosis to this mythic structure, filling in the gaps to fit his proclivities, such as categorically classifying Ullr, Nanna and Heimdallr as Vanir, or saying that Baldr and Nanna lived separately, he in Ásgarðr and she in Vanaheimr. There’s also Brink’s creation of a whole new goddess called Moðir, carried over from his previous works, who is portrayed as an overarching mother earth goddess and the grandmother of Freyja and Frey, having married a giant called Slœgr (a name which Brink translates as ‘the creative one,’ rather than the usual but less palatable ‘sly’). Brink also extrapolates on some myths and adds a bunch of new locations that are not found in canon, with awkwardly and inconsistently spelt names, such as Gratabjöð (the Weeping Fields of the goddess Gefjon where she cares for those who die as maidens), Griðbustaðr (another afterlife destination but for those who worship the Vanir), and Gæfuleysabjarg (a cliff in Freyja’s domain where the souls of warriors unlucky enough to die in their first battle reside). Finally, there are some other bold claims, such as making the young Wealhþ?ow the weaver of the famed Överhogdal tapestries, something which would be quite a feat considering that their creation has been carbon dated to between 1040 and 1170 CE, four centuries later than the period during which Beowulf occurs.

Beowulf's Ecstatic Trance Magic spread

For this and his other books, Brink seems to have spent a lot of time in the Freyr Diviner posture receiving transmissions from an unfamiliar past, or less generously, just making a lot of stuff up. For the sheer time and effort he is to be commended, but mileage may vary as to how far one is willing to take his unverified personal gnosis, especially when his narrative doesn’t distinguish between it and documented lore. Also, as an indicator of the overriding vibe here, the brief bibliography has few texts relevant to this book’s subject (save for two Beowulf titles and one on Scandinavian petroglyphs), with the rest being works on ecstatic body postures and a bunch of new age titles from the likes of Barbara Hand Clow, Rupert Sheldrake and Erwin Laszlo. Brink ends his book with hope for the kind of world Vanadisdottir and Wealhþ?ow believed in and discusses the great turmoil of our time with a reference to one of Laszlo’s titles. Therein, Laszlo promised that this chaos is just a period of transition to be endured and that a new world of peace will emerge when it all passes in 2020. I wonder how that turned out.

Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic runs to 235 pages with a cover design by Peri Swan (images courtesy of iStock) and internal artwork by M. J. Ruhe. Layout by Virginia Scott Bowman has the body typeset in Garamond and Gill Sans, with the latter and Bougan Black used for display.

Published by Bear & Company

by

Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic – Edited by Claire Fanger

No comments yet

Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick, middle ages, Tags:

Conjuring Spirits coverPart of the expansive Magic in History series from Pennsylvania State University Press, Conjuring Spirits is an academic work that calls to mind Scarlet Imprint’s more experientially-orientated compendiums Howlings and Diabolical, in that it brings together essays on various magical texts and manuscripts, albeit from an entirely scholarly perspective. The contributions in Conjuring Spirits are divided into two sections, Context, Genres, Images and Angelic Knowledge, with the latter focussing on just two texts, the Sworn Book of Honorius, and John the Monk’s Book of Visions. Presenting both general surveys and more specific analyses are Michael Camille on two examples of the Ars Notoria, Robert Mathiesen on the Sworn Book of Honorius (also discussed alongside the Liber Visionum by Richard Kieckhefer in a separate entry), John B. Friedman on the Secretum Philosophorum, Elizabeth Wade on Lullian divination, while Nicholas Watson and editor Claire Fanger each separately discuss John the Monk’s Book of Visions of the Blessed and Undefiled Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Finally, this book also includes Juris Lidaka’s edition of the Osbern Bokenham-attributed Liber de Angelis, and an overview by Frank Klaassen of late medieval English ritual manuscripts.

It is Klaassen’s survey of late medieval English manuscripts with which the proceedings open, being an appropriately broad grounding in the genre, even if not all of the works discussed in this book come under that category. Lidaka’s translation of Liber de Angelis follows, being introduced with a brief essay in which he gives a history of this manuscript, establishing early on that the attribution to the Augustinian friar and poet Osbern Bokenham is incorrect, and that the Bokenhan to whom authorship is credited may actually have been one William Bokenham. Liber de Angelis is not a single liber and instead consists of extracts from at least three texts, as evidenced by the demarcation into sections on making rings for each of the planets (ordered from Sun to Saturn), followed by Liber de ymaginibus planetarum, in which instructions are given for creating images of the planets but with the spheres in a different order to the rings, and ending with Secreta  astronomie de sigillis planetarum & eorum figuris in which the planets are ordered differently once again in a guide to creating planetary magic square. Given some of the errors in the original text of Liber de Angelis, such as the numbers in some of the magic squares not calculating correctly and the names of planetary angels differing from other sources, Lidaka argues that the texts were transcribed by an enthusiastic amateur, someone with a general interest in magic though less concerned with slavishly getting everything right.

Conjuring Spirits spread

John B. Friedman’s consideration of the Secretum Philosophorum is a rather dry and technical history of the text, feeling a little out of place given its focus not on ritual magic but on tricks and experiments demonstrating various aspects of the seven liberal arts. Friedman does argue that the text is an example of ‘safe magic,’ using the appearance of sorcery, with its diagrams and occasional acknowledgement of hermetic authority, to give a theoretical matrix to technology and convey ideas of power and learning. Elizabeth Wade also makes a diversion away from grimoires to discuss a fifteenth century German divination device found in a large paper codex catalogued as Cod. Guelf. 75. 10 Aug. 2°. Said fragmentary device is not necessarily the entire focus here and Wade uses it as a starting point for a broader primer on Lullian and pseudo-Lullian forms of mechanical divination, as well as their medieval analogues.

Conjuring Spirits spread

Robert Mathiesen’s essay on the Sworn Book of Honorius focuses not on its use as a Solomonic grimoire for ceremonial magic, and instead on one of only two magical operations to survive in its six known, and presumably partial, manuscripts. While the second (and according to Mathiesen, less interesting), of the operations is for the summoning to appearance of an angel, spirit or demon, the first is a byzantine ritual for attaining the beatific vision, effectively creating a shortcut to the eschatological goal of Christianity. Mathiesen begins with a preamble giving the history of the sworn book, and then a summary of the rite itself, which still runs to several pages despite not being presented in its entirety. There’s little analysis of individual components of the rite and Mathiesen concludes with a discussion on the efficacy of such complicated ritual formulae (he seems pretty assured that it would get some kind of result), and thereby suggests that the rite’s potential to undercut the religious foundation of the medieval world would account for William of Auvergne’s description of the Sworn Book of Honorius as the very worst book of magic in circulation.

Two essays from Nicholas Watson and editor Claire Fanger are unique in that a hitherto unknown manuscript version of their subject, John the Monk’s Liber Visionum, had, at the time of writing in 1998, been recently discovered at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada; while several other full and partial manuscripts have since been found in various European archives. It is worth mentioning that Flanger has subsequently shown that, as per John the Monk himself, the work should be more accurately called Liber florum celestis doctrine, with only its first, autobiographical section being called the Liber visionum, but for the sake of consistency and the convention established by this volume, we’ll keep the archaic naming in this review. With the McMaster version of the Liber visionum being uncovered by Watson and then translated and thoroughly documented by Fanger, there’s a personal feel to the considerations here. Watson discusses the relationship between the McMaster manuscript and another one discovered in Munich, as well as contextualising the work in terms of the broader devotional and mystical tradition upon which it draws. Watson is exhaustive in his analysis, resulting in the longest entry in Conjuring Spirits, running to 52 pages, aided and abetted by extensive endnotes and several appendices: structural analyses of the McMaster and Munich manuscript, as well as individual summaries of both versions. After that, Fanger shows that there’s still more to be said about John the Monk’s text with her own essay in which she considers its relations to the Ars Notoria on which it is modelled. For her own appendix, Fanger provides a synopsis of a prologue from a version of the Liber visionum from the University of Graz library.

Conjuring Spirits spread

John the Monk makes another appearance in Michael Camille’s consideration of examples of ars notoria imagery from various manuscripts, which opens with a vituperative quote from the Grandes Chroniques de France in which the monk of Morigny is pilloried for his wish, through his curiosity and pride, to renew the heretical and sorcerous notary art under another name. John the Monk’s own Marian 0figures are not the focus here, though, and Camille considers the notae from the thirteenth century Turin manuscript (MS E. V.13) and the fourteenth century Paris BN lat. 9336. The images are recipients of detailed discussion, with Camille bringing to them an art historian’s focus by tracing provenance and making comparisons with other examples of medieval pictorial and diagrammatic content. Photographic examples of the notae, as well as their analogues, are included, many at full size, though the quality of reproduction is not the greatest, with a blurry murk and a lack of contrast.

Conjuring Spirits spread

Conjuring Spirits concludes with Richard Kieckhefer’s The Devil’s Contemplatives, in which he considers the two titles already exhaustively discussed within this volume: the Liber Iuratus Honorii (aka the Sworn Book of Honorius) and once again, John the Monk’s Liber Visionum. Kieckhefer’s point of difference, though, is analysing how both texts are evidence of the Christian appropriation of various elements from Jewish occultism. He emphasises the way in which both the Liber Iuratus and the Liber Visionum focus less on the typical goetic summoning of demons and rather on a form of devotional mysticism; an approach, he argues, that has little precedent in Western occultism and is instead drawn from Kabbalah, particularly the vision-rich Merkabah tradition. The previously-discussed ritual for attaining the beatific vision from the Liber Iuratus is an obvious example of this, as is John the Monks devotional reverence towards the Virgin Mary. While the attitude of these Western and Kabbalistic systems is circumstantially similar, Kieckhefer has no smoking gun, with the closest being a version of the Liber Iuratus that includes the Shem HaMephorash, Kabbalah’s secret name of God, in the design of a seal used for acquiring a dream vision.

Despite this book’s title, there’s relatively little that concerns itself with the conjuring of spirits here, with far greater focus on the devotional and reflective elements seen in works such as the Sworn Book of Honorius and Liber Visionum, and even in considerations of the mental self-improvement and memory aides showcased in the Ars Nortoria and the Secretum Philosophorum. With John the Monk looming over many of the contributions here, Conjuring Spirits is a valuable resource on the Liber Visionum, being the largest consideration of the text at the time of publication; though now rivalled by Fanger’s 2015 book, Rewriting Magic: An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk, also published by Pennsylvania State University Press.

Conjuring Spirits, like other titles in the Magic in History series, appears to be available in two editions. One of them features the classic, sombre and refined Penn State Press Magic in History cover template, whilst the other, reviewed here, has a cover design that is slightly more in keeping with an Inner Traditions or Weiser mass market title, all green gradient, low opacity goetic sigil and large drop-shadowed type. In at least this copy, apparently printed-on-demand by Ingram, there is a printing error, where the cover has skewed a couple of degrees off base, meaning that the spine print is noticeably misaligned, with a crooked sliver of the cover’s green gradient creeping into the spine, and a corresponding slice of black spine sneaking round onto the back matter. This same on-demand printing may account for the poor quality reproduction of images.

Published by the Pennsylvania State University Press

by

Occult Roots of Religious Studies – Edited by Yves Mühlematter and Helmut Zander

No comments yet

Categories: esotericism, tantra, Tags:

Occult Roots of Religious Studies coverGrandly subtitled On the Influence of Non-Hegemonic Currents on Academia Around 1900, this anthology focuses on the interconnections between religious studies and occultism, advancing the thesis that the academic discipline of religious studies has hitherto unexplored, and literally and purposefully occulted, roots in esoteric traditions and the occult. As such, occultism and esotericism provided a fertile ground for the development of academic interests in comparative religion, with several scholars of the occult being directly and indirectly involved in the emerging field. The exploration of this scholarly evolution takes the form of case studies of figures such as Paul Masson-Oursel, John Woodroffe, Nees von Esenbeck, Walter Y. Evans-Wentz, Walter Andrae and others. In addition, this volume concludes with what are described as ‘short biographies’ of various contributors to religious studies whose interest in both occultism and science have been little explored, revealing how esotericism, despite its othered status, can be an intrinsic part of the hegemonic culture to which it otherwise appears to be a contrary counterpart.

The case studies in Occult Roots of Religious Studies compile papers presented at the 2018 conference The Birth of the Science of Religion: Out of the Spirit of Occultism, hosted by the Université de Fribourg, and featuring Marco Frenschkowski, Daniel Cyranka, Boaz Huss, Julian Strube, Jens Schlieter, Léo Bernard, Sabine Böhme, and Dilek Sarmis. Editors Yves Mühlematter and Helmut Zander open the proceedings here with a joint introduction that presents the central thesis. Zander follows this with a contribution of his own, less of a case study and rather a setting out of terms in answer to the titular trinity of questions: what is esotericism? Does it exist? How can it be understood? As an academic setting of terms and definitions, this is all fine and de rigueur, but one finds oneself itching to skip the grounding and get to the case studies. Also offering something of an overview is Marco Frenschkowski’s The Science of Religion, Folklore Studies, and the Occult Field in Great Britain (1870–1914), in which he documents how the emerging field of religious studies in late 19th century Britain both influenced and competed with occult and esoteric groups who were pursuing similar but one might say, more invested, avenues of investigations. Despite being an abridged version of a longer study, Frenschkowski’s contribution feels relatively exhaustive, providing a context that extends beyond the geographical boundaries of the Great Britain of the title.

Occult Roots of Religious Studies spread

The first case study of an individual is Daniel Cyranka’s Magnetism, Spiritualism, and the Academy in which he considers perhaps the oldest figure to be profiled here: the German botanist Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck, president of the famed German Academy of the Natural Sciences Leopoldina from 1818 to 1858. As the title suggests, Cyranka is not concerned here with just Nees’ involvement in matters of the academy but with his interest in the then emergent trends of magnetism/vitalism and spiritualism, two fringe belief systems that, to varying degrees, embraced a scientific veneer. Cyranka’s archly disagrees with Johanna Bohley’s 2003 biography of Nees, in which she interprets his involvement with spiritualism as ’senile mysticism,’ painting him as someone for whom ‘infirmity’ and decrepitude made him descend into the comforting murk of pseudo-science. Cyranka contradicts this image, showing how there was a continuum between his academic works and later interests, and that his attempts to align the otherworldly with the scientific were hardly unique, being indicative of similar conversations occurring at the time.

In Academic Study of Kabbalah and Occultist Kabbalah, Boaz Huss profiles several 19th and 20th century scholars of Kabbalah including Gershom Scholem, Adolphe Franck, Moses Gaster, Joshua Abelson, and Ernst Müller. Although such scholars of Kabbalah, and Scholem in particular, were dismissive of occult Kabbalah because of its practitioners’ lack of academic expertise, and its independence from a specifically Jewish framework, Huss argues that the relationship betwixt the two fields was more nuanced than one might expect. He notes that Kabbalah scholarship and experiential Kabbalah have common genealogies, with significant connections, shared ideas, and nomenclature, and with the scholarly side of the aisle going so far as to identify Kabbalah as a form of theosophy (with the lowercase ‘t’). Scholem was even appreciative of Arthur E. Waite and Joseph Franz Molitor (both Christian kabbalists rather than occult ones) and the insights they provided, commending Waite for his appreciation of kabbalah’s sexual symbolism.

Occult Roots of Religious Studies spread

This volume’s sole illustrated essay is Sabine Böhme’s The Ancient Processional Street of Babylon at the Pergamonmuseum Berlin, with its focus on the Anthroposophical background to Walter Andrae’s reconstruction in Berlin’s Pergamon Musuem of the Ishtar Gate and other archaeological objects from the same region, creating what is known as the museum’s Processional Way of Babylon exhibition. Böhme emphasises Andrae’s membership of Die Christengemeinschaft (The Christian Community), an esoteric denomination influenced by the works of Rudolf Steiner, though not directly affiliated with him, arguing that the community provided Andrae with an understanding of Steiner’s system of Anthroposophy and that this influenced the design of his museal concept. Assigning ancient intent to an apparently theoretical master architect called Zaratos or Nazarthos, Andrae conceived of the processional way as a device to purify those who walked down it as they headed into the Holy City of Bab-ilu, with the various stelae of lions, bulls and the chimerical mushhushshu dragons that lined the way creating a metaphysical experience for them. In such animal figures, and in the sphinxes he imagined standing guard at the beginning of the journey (going so far as to include two sphinxes from a different area and time period at the start of the museum’s processional way, one a restoration and the other a replica of it), Andrae saw a depiction of Steiner’s idea of humans being comprised of four parts: a physical body, a life body or etheric body, an astral body bearing sentience or consciousness, and the ego. Böhme’s illustration of how Anthroposophical ideas informed Andrae’s thinking is convincing, drawing principally from his own writings, while said thinking is rather less so, coming across as supremely speculative and prejudicial, with preconceptions colouring the archaeological interpretations.

Occult Roots of Religious Studies spread

Three of the entries here concern themselves with the intersection of the West with Indian and Buddhist ideas, beginning with Julian Strube’s Tantra as Experimental Science in the Works of John Woodroffe. This provides a welcomed profile on the English author, perhaps better known by his pseudonym Arthur Avalon, whose comprehensive works on Tantra and Yoga first introduced those ideas to many in the West. Strube shows how Woodroffe’s advocacy for Tantra as an empirical, rational and ultimately scientific form of mysticism had an enduring and substantial influence on figures such as Mircea Eliade and Carl Gustav Jung, amongst others, with the system being considered analogous to the emerging Western fields of spiritualism and occultism.

A broadly similar vein is mined in Jen Schlieter’s A Common Core of Theosophy in Celtic Myth, Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism, but with the focus on the American Theosophist Walter Y. Evans-Wentz, who, like Woodroffe with whom he communicated, was a Westerner who directly engaged with indigenous experts and intellectuals; including the Indo-Tibetan scholar and translator, Lama Kazi-Dawa Samdup with whom he collaborated on three titles, the most famous of which is the first English translation of the Bardo Thodol. Schlieter does not solely focus on Evans-Wentz’s relationship with Tibetan Buddhism, rather contextualising it within a Theosophy-inspired embrace of all religions and spiritualties that saw him study Celtic mythology, search for Egyptian wisdom, and only later explore Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. Highlighting the book’s concern with comparative religion, Evans-Wentz saw themes of animism and reincarnation in all of these religions, as well as in the beliefs of certain Alexandrian Christians and Gnostic sects, arguing that they were fundamental principles of a perennial spirituality.

As the final part of this similarly-themed trio, Léo Bernard’s profile of the orientalist and philosopher, Paul Masson-Oursel, subtitled Inside and Outside the Academy, charts his oscillation between hegemonic and non-hegemonic poles, as exemplified by René Guénon’s scathing assessment of him as exhibiting a tendency towards appeasing everyone, “a result, no doubt, of his quite indecisive character.” Understandably, Bernard is nowhere near as a vituperative in his consideration of Masson-Oursel, highlighting his role in developing an academic approach to comparative religion in which the idea of philosophia perrenis played a central role, as well as showing his links to the growth of Neo-Vedanta/Neo-Hinduism in which Hindu thinkers and reformers such as Vivek?nanda and G?ndh? redefined Hindu dharma as an essentially universal, ethical religion.

Occult Roots of Religious Studies spread

The short biographies with which this volume concludes makes for a significant contribution of twenty-seven pages despite their individual brevity. Each on average runs to a page and a third with usually a biographical paragraph as a contextual grounding, followed by one or two on their scholastic endeavours as they pertain to this title’s central thesis. Profiled here are Mehmet Ali Ayni, Hermann Beckh, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, Baron Omar Rolf von Ehrenfels, Antoine Faivre, Charles Johnston, Anna Kamensky, George Robert Stow Mead, Georges Méautis, Erwin Rousselle, Friedrich Otto Schrader, Karl Bernhard Seidenstücker, Daisetsu Teitar? Suzuki, and Mari Albert Johan van Manen.

Occult Roots of Religious Studies runs to 283 pages of main content, bound as a sturdy hardback. The text in is presented in the De Gruyter house style, with the body set in a mild slab serif that almost scans as a sans serif, giving a distinctly modern look that, as has been mentioned in other reviews, is ever-so-slightly unconducive to reading. Images in Böhme’s consideration of Walter Andrae are reproduced at a small size and with their captions are somewhat awkwardly formatted.

Published by De Gruyter

by

The Strix-Witch – Daniel Ogden

No comments yet

Categories: classical, witchcraft, Tags:

The Strix-Witch coverAnother entry in Cambridge University Press’ compact Elements in Magic series, Daniel Ogden’s The Strix-Witch seeks to provide the tricky answer to what is acknowledged as an ostensibly simple question: what was a strix? The simple answer is a winged and often predatory female figure of Greek and Latin folklore, travelling at night in either a birdlike physical form or as a projected soul. But as Ogden shows, the strix is a being of shifting classifications whose liminal status as a creature of simultaneous substance and ephemerality makes her difficult to grasp and define.

Ogden begins with a brief consideration of the Latin term itself before providing a survey of the three most substantial accounts of the strix, as found in the works of the poet Ovid, the satirist Gaius Petronius, and from a Christian perspective, the seventh century Byzantine theologian John Damascene. Ogden then provides an analysis of the imbricated motifs within the three texts, isolating fourteen in all: the strix as an old witch, the strix at night, flying and avian transformation, flying and soul projection, screeching, snatching of whole bodies, snatching of individual body parts, the extraction of moisture, the imposition on a time-limit on the life of victims, fighting back against the strix, cannibalism and covens of striges, and the strix’s imperceptibility in relation to battles over both houses and bodies. This is a thorough section, the lion’s share of the book, and Ogden does not simply list the recurring and constituent motifs, highlighting whether they appear in all or only some of the texts. Instead, he provides parallel instances of such information, drawn from passing allusions in a substantial collection of additional sources, whether they concern themselves with striges in particular or with broader folk conceptions. In the consideration of the flying strix as an avian soul projection, for example, he incorporates various precedents from the Classical world, ranging from Homer and Virgil’s underworld ghosts that flock like birds, to a group of marvellous figures from Pythagorean tradition credited with the ability to fly, including Aristeas of Proconnesus (mentioned by Herodotus, Maximus of Tyre and Strabo), Hermotimus of Clazomenae (mentioned by Apollonius), and Abaris the Hyperborean (mentioned by Porphyry in his Life of Pythagoras). Similarly, Ogden draws polymathically from both Classical and medieval sources when discussing the snatching of bodies and body parts, referencing Gervase of Tilbury in the former and Plautus’ comedy Pseudolus in the latter. In so doing, Ogden provides a far broader picture of the strix than an assessment of just three texts would lead one to believe, drawing on information from both forwards and backwards in time to build up a comprehensive, culturally and temporally diverse image.

From this comparison of motifs, Ogden reconstructs the ideal narrative of a strix attack, what he defines as ‘the strix paradigm,’ and uses this to offer a more complete and final answer to the fundamental question of what a strix was. This paradigm defines the strix as a terrible woman that attacks babies, flying by night by transforming into a bird or bird-like creature and focussing her onslaught first on the exterior of the house in order to gain ingress via invisibility or permeability. Once successful in its intrusion, the strix may steal the entire body of the child, or rend its liver and other internal organs, or drain the victim of moisture.

In the third section, Ogden shows how the strix paradigm influenced the general representation of witches in the Latin literary tradition, something that becomes evident early on with the intersection of so many motifs, particularly in the prior discussion of striges gathering to feast on the bodies they had stolen, so reminiscent of the witches’ sabbat. Ogden suggests that the strix provides an explanation for the vastly different ways in which witches are represented in Greek and Latin literature, with the latter having greater emphasis on the morbid, predatory and gruesome. To this end, he analyses various Latin accounts of witches: Candida in Horace’s Epodes, Dipsas in Ovid’s Amores, Erictho in Lucan’s Pharsalia, the Thessalian witches in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, and the unnamed witch who is described killing the slave Iucundus on his epitaph from early 20s CE Rome. In addition, there are the later accounts of the witchy innkeepers from St. Augustine’s City of God and the belief in the night-working witches mentioned by Burchard of Worms in his 1012–20 CE Corrector sive Medicus. Ogden introduces each excerpt and then highlights the strix-like motifs in what are rather striking reiterations of core themes, in particular the ability to gain ingress via small gaps, and the interest in matters corporeal.

In his fourth and final section, Ogden considers the strix via the analogous figure of Gello whose existence constitutes a longue durée that stretches from the child-killing demons of ancient Mesopotamia and Greece, right down to survivals in modern Greek folklore. He begins with the child-stealing Lamashtu demon found in Akkadian texts of the first and second millennia BCE, tracing her descent into the Classical lamia, but he also considers another predatory Mesopotamian demon, Gallû. Although they are male in their initial appearance, Ogden documents the Gallû demon’s evolution into the female bay-stealing figure of Gello, mentioned in a grimly ironic fragment by Sappho in which she describes an unidentified subject as “loving children more than Gello.” Ogden also uses this section to consider briefly a few minor threads, like related terms such as the men-transformed into birds called styx in Antoninus Liberalis’ Metamorphoses, the striglos/ strigla defined in Hesychius of Alexandria’s lexicon as either the inside of a horn/wing or as a little owl or a long-eared owl, and ultimately the more recent folkloric night spirit known as stringlos.

Like other entries in the Elements in Magic series, Ogden’s The Strix-Witch is a satisfying deep dive into a specialised topic with much to satisfy for those seeking information both on the predatory female figures such as the strix specifically, but also for those interested in the roots of the image of the malevolent witch.

Published by Cambridge University Press

by

Samlag: The Path of Þursian Sexual Sorcery – Ljóssál Loðursson

No comments yet

Categories: anticosmic, germanic, tantra

Samlag coverPublished by Spiritual Outlaw, Samlag: The Path of Þursian Sexual Sorcery is one of two Þursian titles by Ljóssál Loðursson released in close proximity, with the other being his Ginnrúnbók, which was published through Spain’s Fall of Man press. Significantly shorter than that work, Samlag is a more focussed companion volume, considering, as its title tells it, the use of Þursian sex magic, with a particular focus on the erotic relationship between Loki and Angrboða. The brevity of Samlag is a feature of its chapters too, with almost all twelve being relatively succinct, abetted by the body type’s large point, with there being little fat on these bones as Loðursson introduces topics broadly and deftly moves forward.

Samlag appears to start slowly at first, with somewhat disparate considerations of the Smisstenen or Ormhäxan stone from Gotland, and a thorough survey of examples of cardiophagy and other forms of flesh-eating from the eddas and sagas. But these are all individual strands that are then woven into the greater whole as the book progresses. The snake-wielding female figure on the Ormhäxan stone is interpreted as Angrboða or Hyrrokkin, with the three-headed triskelion above as her three children (Hela, Fenrir and the World Serpent), while the theme of cardiophagy relates to Loki’s eating of Angrboða-Gullveig’s heart, an act similarly associated with the birth of the couple’s three children. Indeed, Gullveig’s hugsteinn heart and other giant’s hearts, such as the hrungnishjarta, play a significant role within these pages, encapsulating many of the ideas of samlag like a sanguine arcanum.

Samlag spread

Loðursson defines samlag as ‘communion’ and it is this exchange that is at the heart, if you will, of the three forms of sexual sorcery he presents here: Snýst Miðgarðsormr i Jötunmóð (a kundalini-like raising of serpentine energy), Náttúru Samlag (autoerotic summoning of spirits) and Loptr kvidugr af konu illri (a couple’s working described by Loðursson as a powerful antinomic and counter-cosmic sexual High Magic connected with the giants). Naturally, it is the Loptr kvidugr af konu illri working that is given the most attention here, with its procedure built around the words of its title: Loptr was impregnated by that evil woman. For those that hope that all this talk of impregnating Loki might involve some backdoor shenanigans, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, what is presented here is a relatively straightforward Tantra-style configuration of Shiva and Shakti in which a male practitioner embodies Loki while their female counterpart does the same for Angrboða. It’s not quite such an absolute binary, though, as Loðursson defines both participants as effectively hermaphroditic, being simultaneously male and female in order to break illusionary laws of unity and dualism “through emptiness and polar holism.” The impregnation of Loptr, then, is an oral one in which menstrual blood is consumed in a version of Tantra’s yoni puja, with the blood of the female participant being analogous to the blood of Angrboða’s hugsteinn heart. This act is one that mirrors the creation of Hela, Fenrir and the World Serpent, and so has a similar effect, leading to the creation of a totem-housed egregore that incorporates elements of all three beings.

Samlag spread

There are two other samlag workings either included or mentioned in this book. The first is an autoerotic one focusing solely on the woman embodying Angrboða, who in an act of “contra-cosmic autogenesis” creates two totems representing Hati and Sköll thereby re-enacting the line from Völuspá in which Angrboða as in aldna (‘the old one’) bears the brood of her son, Fenrir. The second working, with which Samlag concludes in a brief chapter, is only hinted at, and refers to the matrix of Loki, Sinmara and by extension, the mara or nightmare. Loðursson suggests that Loki is the grandchild of Surtr and Sinmara, and thereby posits an equine connection between grandson and grandmother via Loki’s transformation into the horse that lured away Svaðilfari and Sinmara’s association with the mara.

Samlag spread

 

One of the pure highlights of Samlag is an aesthetic one, with the text ably accompanied by works from three different artists, Santiago David Gutiérrez, Diego Sanchez and Chris Undirheimar. It is Gutiérrez who makes the most immediate impact with a woodcut (or woodcut-style) image on the dustjacket depicting Loki and Angrboða around a burning heart, accompanied by Hela, Fenrir and the World Serpent, with the three siblings combined into one phantasmagorical chimera. With its stark shapes and restricted palette of red, black and white, Gutiérrez’s style is both distinctive and evocative, with a look that points to historical antecedents but has an atmosphere and consistency all of its own.Samlag spread with illustration by Diego Sanchez The family portrait on the dustjacket also hides an entirely separate image by Gutiérrez on the hardcover itself, which makes for a lovely surprise with its intertwining rune border festooned with hearts, set in white and red against a black background. Elsewhere, Gutiérrez’s approach is contrasted strongly with that of Sanchez who has a more, how you say, metal hand, with densely rendered, full-page pencil images, principally of a horned and hirsute Loki.

Samlag hardcover

Samlag runs to just over a hundred pages and although it has been printed by print-on-demand company Lightning Source, it is bound as a rather fetching matte black hardback that is illustrated front and back, nicely wrapped in the aforementioned dustjacket. Body text is set in a large serif face, subtitles in a distressed antique serif, while titles are in a striking blackletter that is combined with a header illustration of twin wolves.

Published by Spiritual Outlaw

by

Meaningful Flesh – Edited by Whitney A. Bauman

No comments yet

Categories: queer, religion, Tags:

Meaningful Flesh coverSubtitled Re­flections on Religion and Nature for a Queer Planet, Punctum Books’ Meaningful Flesh is a relatively brief anthology featuring contributions from Jacob J. Erickson, Jay Johnson, Timothy Morton, Daniel Spencer, Carol Wayne White, and editor Whitney A. Bauman. It presents a variety of musings on nature and religion, two things that, as the preface describes it, are much queerer than we ever imagined; hrmph, speak for yourself, I have some pretty queer imaginings.

Following a preface from Whitney A. Bauman and an introduction from Daniel T. Spencer, Carol Wayne White opens the proceedings with the longest contribution here, Polyamorous Bastards: James Baldwin’s Opening to a Queer African-American Religious Naturalism, in which she begins by highlighting Baldwin’s use of the ‘bastard’ epithet as a multifaceted expression of the black experience of marginality in North America. This she then incorporates into the idea of African-American religious naturalism, a concept she has developed before and in great depth, most notably in 2006’s Black Lives and Sacred Humanity: Toward an African American Religious Naturalism. Here, though, this African-American religious naturalism is less defined, and so the appeal to it, and its incorporation into the preceding and thorough exploration of Baldwin’s ideas, feels inconclusive, almost abrupt.

A highlight here is Jacob J. Erickson’s Irreverent Theology: On the Queer Ecology of Creation which uses as its starting point Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series of short films on animal sexual behaviour. Indeed Rossellini does much of the work early on, with the preamble consisting of a recounting of her gentle and whimsical excoriation of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, in which the divine directive of male and female animal pairs is rendered foolish by the queer diversity of gender within the animal kingdom. Erickson incorporates an overview of Karen Barad’s theory of agential realism from her 2007 book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, seeing her writing as key in the way it mutually-enhances and collaborates with the insights of queer theory, philosophies of science, and ecology. Pursuing Rossellini’s observation that “Nature is infinitely scandalous,” Erickson uses Barad’s idea of nature as post-humanist performativity to uncover a delightful and profound queerness in Martin Luther’s incarnational theology of creation, in which creatures are considered larvae dei (‘masks of God’) or involucrum (God’s ‘wrapping’). Acknowledging the ‘burlesque attitude’ with which Luther approaches theological language, Erickson argues that this use of carnivalesque masks of God effectively casts the divine as something “caught up in a kind of queer performativity of the earth,” wherein it desires to play and revel in its grounding.

Jay Emerson Johnson mines a similar vein to Erickson with Liberating Compassion: A Queerly Theological Anthropology of Enchanting Animals, in which, informed by queer theory’s suspicion of binary classification, he muses on what defines an animal and a human, noting the way in which both scholar and lay so easily assume an often hierarchical distinction between human and animal, one that mirrors similar Western assumptions about sexually gendered categorisation. As an explication of these themes, Johnson examines the multiple performativities in ecosystems of gay affection most specifically in the fetish of human-pup-play. This thinning of classifications is then applied to theology, with Johnson suggesting that the dissolution of the idea of the imago Dei as the sole preserve of ‘humans’ would lead to “an awareness of other-than-human pain and suffering, or empathy.”

In the penultimate entry, Queer Values for a Queer Climate: Developing a Versatile Planetary Ethic, Whitney Bauman follows the contributions that precede him with an attempt to decentre anthropocentrism in the perception of nature and thereby create new forms of performance that re-engage with/on/in the planet by respecting its agency at multiple levels. Like Johnson before him, Bauman embraces queer perspectives in order to create a better way of viewing the world, taking cues from Jack Halberstam’s call for an ethics of ambiguity and unknowing rather than progress, Timothy Morton’s call for a queer ecology or “ecology without nature,” as well as a queering of our sense of linear time. As Jacob J. Erickson did earlier, Bauman also draws attention to the queerness of gender and sexualities amongst the animal kingdom, referencing Joan Roughgarden’s book Evolution’s Rainbow to show how heteronormativity has been read into the evolutionary record by those doing the reading. For Bauman, then, a better world is one unshackled from hierarchies of time, and the unassailable, inexorable destiny of progress or the heteronormative nuclear family, replaced by an understanding of a reverberating and non-teleological time that cultivates “an ecology of relationships that stretches across multiple generations and multiple terrains” akin to a Deleuzian rhizome without beginning or end.

Bringing everything to a meaningful and fleshy end is Timothy Morton, who, would you believe, provides a reflection on queer green sex toys in order to challenge the ontology of agrilogistics. Um, yes. What that means in practical terms is perhaps less salacious than one might hope, with each of the words acting as a heading for various philosophical musings. Queer considers the metaphysics and epistemology of perception in which anything, be it a frog, a meadow or climate change is impossible to purely define and must therefore, and paradoxically, not exist at all. Green builds on this philosophical conceit to define agrilogistics, Morton’s idea of agriculture as a virus, running since about 10,000 BCE when hunter-gatherers settled down and farmed grain, whose three axioms are the law of noncontradiction is inviolable, to exist is to be constantly present, and more existing is better than any quality of existing. As for Sex, which, not unexpectedly, cannot be limited to just one heteronormative expression within a ‘gigantic ocean’ of sexualities and gender, Morton defines it as an ontologically fundamental category like queer and green, as the uncontainable enjoyment that occurs when the first two categories begin to resonate in an enjoyment that implies movement. These queer, green sex beings are finally categorised as the toys of the title, being contingent, fragile, and most significantly, playful; for to play is to make violable the first axiom of agrilogistics: the law of noncontradiction. For Morton, then, thinking ecologically is not an exercise in themes of normative purity and eternal truths, but rather an understanding that things are queer green sex toys.

With its five entries, Meaningful Flesh provides a little something for everyone so inclined, with certain themes that run through each pieces, especially the last four, in which the queerness of nature is a central tenant. Also, the cover design by Chris Piuma incorporating images from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur is lovely.

Published by Punctum Books

by

Demons in Late Antiquity: Their Perception and Transformation in Different Literary Genres – Edited by Eva Elm, Nicole Hartmann

No comments yet

Categories: classical, satanism, Tags:

Demons in Late Antiquity coverThis anthology, edited by Eva Elm and Nicole Hartmann, is the 54th volume in the Transformationen der Antike series, produced by the Collaborative Research Centre’s Transformations of Antiquity project and Humboldt University of Berlin’s August Boeckh Centre of Antiquity. It considers the myriad way in which demons were perceived in late antiquity, drawing variously from spells, apocalypses, martyrdom literature and hagiography to show how this perception was moulded, as anything is, by context both cultural and religious, and considers the specific influence of literary genres on this. The eight articles that are presented here originated from a conference that took place in Berlin in November 2015, with the slightly different title of The Perception of Demons in Different Literary Genres in Late Antiquity, and reveal a variety of voices with different approaches.

The first four papers in Demons in Late Antiquity focus on the rendering of demons in a variety of genres, including magical amulets, apocalypses and the Vetus Latina (the earliest Latin translations of the Gospels), while the four remaining papers address how the theme appears specifically in late antique hagiography. The intersection between demons, disease and cultural influences is a focus of the first two entries, with Christoph Markschies considering the transformation of pagan concepts of demons to Christian ones on apotropaic talismans, while Annette Weissenrieder’s Disease and Healing in a Changing World concerns itself with the exorcisms performed by Jesus as recorded in the Vetus Latina, in which then contemporary Roman medical ideas inform the narrative. Markschies provides examples of the overlap between pagan and Christian ideas of demons, drawing attention to how in his dialogue Theophrastus, the fifth century Neo-Platonic philosopher and convert to Christianity, Aeneas of Gaza, talks of the airy materiality of demons, ideas that had precedent two centuries earlier in the work of another Neoplatonist, Porphyry. A similar overlap occurs in the work of the presumed-Christian philosopher Calcidius whose fourth century translation into Latin of Plato’s Timaeus includes, as part of his commentary, an excursus on demonology, describing demons as ‘associates of the enemy power,’ a phrase that can be traced back to Porphyry as well. Weissenrieder’s essay, meanwhile, focuses heavily on technical etymology, highlighting difference between the Afra versions of the gospel and the European Vetus Latina versions. By deep-diving into the intricacies of language and the terms used, Weissenrieder argues that the latter texts present a more pragmatic and medical view of the process of exorcism, in which Jesus removes the plague of illness, rather than a plague of demons and unclean spirits. A similar exploration of language at a technical level is found in The Ambiguity of the Devil, in which Nienke Vos employs a discourse-linguistic analysis to focus on the appearance of the devil in Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St. Martin.

Demons in Late Antiquity spread

Editor Nicole Hartmann’s On Demons in Early Martyrology is not so much about demons but rather a lack of demons, arguing that they feature little in early martyrology. She shows how despite the unquestioned belief then current in a variety of unseen spirits that surrounded the faithful in the everyday, they, and in particular daimones, play little active role in early martyrdom accounts; This early martyrology had little impact in the shaping of Christian demonology, and indeed, later stories of martyrs reflected this evolution, with a reversal in which less focus was placed on the martyrdom itself, and more on contests of power between martyrs and adversarial, malevolent spirits. It is this later period that is addressed in Robert Wi?niewski’s Demons in Early Latin Hagiography, in which he draws specifically on Athanasius’ Life of Antony, Paulinus’ Life of Ambrose, Jerome’s Life of Hilarion and Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St. Martin; the latter two of which are also dealt with individually within this volume by Eva Elm and Nienke Vos respectively. Wi?niewski provides a wide ranging survey of the role of demons in such literature and draws attention to the fact that encounters with demons occur more frequently in the lives of monks than those of bishops, with spiritual combat and the fight against temptation often being quintessential to a monk’s monastic and eremophilous existence, whereas the ecclesiastical life didn’t quite present the same opportunities for interaction with the demonic.

Editor Eva Elm’s consideration of demons in Jerome’s Life of Hilarion is titled Hilarion and the Bactrian Camel and focuses rather less than one might expect, given its titular prominence, on said rabid camel, which appears only in passing references to its exorcism by Hilarion. Instead, Elms presents a thorough account of Hilarion’s life and interaction with demons, including a significant, and ever-so-slightly diverting, preamble discussing his appearance in Gustave Flaubert’s 1874 novel The Temptation of St. Anthony, in which he acts as an adversarial figure attempting to sway his mentor from the monastic life.

Demons in Late Antiquity spread

Perhaps the most intriguing exploration of this book’s themes is found in Emmanouela Grypeou’s Demons of the Underworld in the Christian Literature of Antiquity, though the demons concerned here are actually punishing angels. Grypeou suggests that later fifth century images of demons as infernal administrators of punishment were informed by earlier themes of angels, not fallen and still aligned with heaven, acting as arbiters of divine justice within Hell itself. She focuses little on transitional examples that might confirm this supposition and instead provides a thorough documentation from a variety of texts of various punitive angeli Tartarum; texts in which they along with personified figures associated with death effectively constituted a ‘mortuary pantheon’ for Late Antique Christianity. Grypeou focuses specifically on second and third century Christian apocalyptic texts such as the Hellenic-influenced Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul. Both apocalypses mention several hell-bound angels who administer punishments, as well the angel Temelouchos, a figure who appears here as a benign guardian of the victims of infanticide but who in later works, such as the First Apocalypse of John, also becomes a divine arbiter dispensing specifically igneous punishments. Grypeou acknowledges the precedent of tormenting angels in early Jewish apocalyptic texts, such as the Parables of Enoch, the Second Apocalypse of Enoch and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and also documents significant examples in later Coptic literature, where the angelic demons of Amente are often thought to be evidence of the survival of ancient Egyptian eschatological ideas.

Save for an epilogue by Jan. N. Bremmer, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe brings this volume to its conclusion with Demon Speech in Hagiography and Hymnography, in which she exhaustively covers various examples of the speech of demons and their characteristics. She contrasts the utterances of demonic actors in late antique saints’ lives with Syriac and Greek catechetical hymns, such as Ephrem’s Nisibene Hymns, in which infernal beings are given voice as characters in an instructional narrative.

Demons in Late Antiquity spread

In all, Demons in Late Antiquity is an interesting compilation of texts, that show a variety of themes even if there are certain through-lines such as disease, and a focus on some particular texts more than others. Demons in Late Antiquity is presented as an oversized 6.8 x 9.6 inch hardback in a fetching shade of red. Illustrations are limited to Christoph Markschies’ essay with slightly muddy photographs of some of the manuscripts he references, and the text is presented in the De Gruyter house style, with the body set in a mild slab serif that almost scans as a sans serif, giving a distinctly modern look that is ever-so-slightly unconducive to reading.

Published by De Gruyter

by

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder – Claude & Corinne Lecouteux

No comments yet

Categories: folk, Tags:

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder coverLike Claude Lecouteux’s recently reviewed Mysteries of the Werewolf, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder, this work was originally published in French and here receives its first English edition, with Inner Traditions giving it the hardcover treatment, wrapped up nicely in a green dustjacket. Like the previously reviewed title, this is an anthology of source material, but this time Lecouteux is joined by his wife, Corinne, a translator specialising in tales and legends.

Interestingly, comparing the new title with that of the 2013 original, Contes, Diableries et Autres Merveilles du Moyen Age, only the ‘wonder’ now remains, with the diableries being replaced by the slightly more palatable witchcraft. As one might expect, then, this new title is somewhat of a misnomer as the witchcraft content within these pages is so slight as to be effectively negligible. Even a section on devils and magic concerns itself with general legends of diabolism with not a single witch amongst its cast of characters. Instead, these tales of wonder run the gamut of folklore, divided into fairly self-explanatory chapters that cover off animal tales, oddities and wonders, deviltry and spells, the supernatural spouse, both licit and illicit love, wisdom and stupidity, and heroic legends. Indeed from the pleasant alliteration of the title it is ‘wonder’ that is the operative word here, with the entries often being examples of medieval miracula and mirabilia, popular narratives of the fantastic that, as Les Lecouteux note, were often mined by romance writers of the Middle Ages to form their own tales. Applying Caroline Bynum’s seminal definition of the terms, these tales are examples of mirabilia, in that the detail “natural effects we fail to understand,” and miracula, that is, “’unusual and difficult’ events… produced by God’s power alone on things that have a natural tendency to the opposite effect.” Also puzzling is the book’s subtitle, The Venomous Maiden and Other Stories of the Supernatural, given that said tale, concerning a maiden fed poison her entire life in order to become a vehicle for revenge, is hardly the most representative entry here.

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder spread

In their introduction, Les Lecouteux provide an overview of the types of tales within, categorising them into five types: legends of the dead, demonic legends, historical legends, Christian legends and etiological legends. In an important caveat, they mention that to present these tales verbatim would be only of interest to specialists, so all of them have been rewritten into a consistent manner, free of redundancies and tedious appeals to God’s mercy and omnipotence, as was the style of the times. This creates a readable narrative with Jon E. Graham’s translation also flowing freely and complimenting the text nicely.

The first section with its examples of animal tales is the shortest at a mere six entries, though stories in which animals appear as the spirit forms of people do bleed into the following chapter on various oddities and wonders. One of the longest sections concerns the idea of the supernatural spouse, but there are few entries, with each of the tales being exhaustive retellings of medieval legends of courtly love, including those of Seyfried von Ardemont, Frederick of Swabia, and two swan knights, Aeneas and Helias. A similar thing occurs in the heroic legends chapter where many of the pages are devoted to single entries variously retelling the stories of Velent (Völundr) from Þidrekssaga af Bern, the anonymous 14th century romance Valentine and Nameless, and the hagiographic legend of Saint Oswald.

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder spread

A source of frustration mentioned ad nauseam in the review of Claude Lecouteux’s Mysteries of the Werewolf was that title’s lack of contextual information and referencing, with all the entries largely adrift in terms of time, space and authorship. Mercifully, that is not the case here, and indeed Les Lecouteux appear, intentionally or not, to have made up for the omissions in the previous work with a veritable surfeit of supplementary information. Every entry has a listing of the source, one that more often than not is also footnoted to point to the particular edition in the bibliography. Not only that, but almost all of these tales conclude with an italicised explanation by Les Lecouteux, citing provenance, influence or elucidating themes and motifs. The thoroughness does not end with these though, and Les Lecouteux provide an extensive appendix of various folk tale type classifications, including Antii Aarne’s numbered system from The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and a Bibliography, the moral themes of F. C. Tubach’s Index Exemplorum: A Handbook of Medieval Religious Tales, and the extensive index of motifs from Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk Literature. Keys to these indices appear at the end of many, though by no means all, of the entries. The inclusion of such classifications is a valuable tool and while the cross-referencing of these indexes may be limited to folkloric specialists in its usefulness, its inclusion is unobtrusive and can be ignored if simply reading for pleasure or general research.

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder spread

All in all, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder has much to recommend it as a compilation of well referenced medieval legends. The text design and layout by Debbie Glogover presents the work in a pleasant fashion, with the body text set in Garamond, minor headers in Gill Sans and Myriad, the antique NixRift for the header of each entry, and Shango, based on F.H. Schneidler’s elegant classical serif Schneidler Mediaeval, for the main and chapter titles. A feathered woodcut image sits behind each chapter heading, a various smaller images, of varying reproduction quality, are spread throughout the body of the text to keep things interesting.

Published by Inner Traditions

by

The War on Witchcraft – Jan Machielsen

No comments yet

Categories: witchcraft, Tags:

The War on Witchcraft coverJan Machielsen’s The War on Witchcraft is part of Cambridge University Press’ compact Elements in Magic series, which aims to restore the study of magic to a central place within culture. A brief work, it has an ambiguous title with a far more informative subtitle of Andrew Dickson White, George Lincoln Burr, and the Origins of Witchcraft Historiography. The two American historians of the title, Machielsen argues, have had a little acknowledged but lasting influence on the field of modern witch hunt studies, one that is comparable, if in opposition, to the more familiar, and slightly later, Margaret Murray and Montague Summers. Machielsen’s work has its origins in 2010 when, as a graduate student, he received a scholarship to Cornell University, giving him the opportunity to study its large witchcraft collection (begun by one of Cornell’s founders, the aforementioned Andrew Dickson White), thereby sparking an interest in the library’s origins. The text itself began life in 2016 as a lengthy article, before enduring, as Machielsen wryly reflects, three years of rejections from a trio of academic journals, until he was encouraged by Alex Wright and Elements in Magic series editor Marion Gibson to expand it into its final form during a research stay in Germany, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Machielsen begins with a brief but comprehensive review of eighteenth century scholarship’s rational approach to witchcraft which sought to dismiss allegations against witches as an embarrassing and superstitious delusion, now safely and mercifully consigned, in the clear light of modernity’s day, to the past. It is this academic, historiographical onslaught, continued by White and Burr, which is the war of the book’s title and a play on White’s voluminous A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. As Machielsen notes, such eighteenth century scholarly attitudes were fundamentally paternalistic and condescending, comparable to that of the very demonologists and church authorities that scholars now sought to denigrate, men whose appeals to a greater sapient authority, framed within the certainty provided by an absolute dichotomy of true and false, was later mirrored by scholarship’s belief in an axiomatic rationality set against equally self-evident irrationality. Just as demonologists used the language of superstition, dressed up in religious nomenclature, so academia defined both belief in witchcraft and the witch hunts that followed as thoroughly superstitious, as inherently irrational and therefore belonging to the past. In the early 1900s, Murray and Summers, who could both be, and were, dismissed as enthusiastic amateurs, took a different approach, with Murray positing that early modern Europe’s witches had been members of a secret pagan fertility cult, while the Catholic convert Summers argued for a literal and perennial worship of demons with the witch as a “minister to vice and inconceivable corruption” and “a member of a powerful secret organisation inimical to Church and State.”

The work of Andrew Dickson White and his student George Lincoln Burr is positioned here in opposition to the literalism later embraced by Murray and Summers, being a continuation of the veneration of the rational that sought to consign witchcraft to history. In some ways, this was merely an adjunct of White core and overstated thesis, as explored in A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, in which dogmatic theology and science were, and had forever been, inimical to each other, locked in perpetual and fundamental conflict. White drew attention, for example, to the way in which his rational heroes, be they scientists, witchcraft sceptics, or even printers, were pilloried with allegations of sorcery by an irrational world, such as the thirteenth-century physician Arnold de Villanova (charged with sorcery and dealings with the devil) or England’s first printer, William Caxton (who did not escape the charge of sorcery). The war on witchcraft and the warfare of science were, thus, effectively extensions of each other, with the witch-hunt being emblematic of the consequences of dangerous theological and sectarian ideas. That isn’t to say that White’s embracing of unassailable rationality extending to dismissing Christian belief itself and it was his opposition to inhibitive theology, rather than Christianity itself, that allowed him to see himself as, in the words of Machielsen, “the latest (if not the last) in a long line of virtuous Christian men fighting for scientific and religious Truth.”

It was White’s student, Burr, who ran specifically with these themes of witchcraft, sharing a  philosophy with his mentor that any form of false belief existed only to be refuted as the absence or corruption of something good. Burr’s language spoke to this with earnest zeal, seeing witchcraft as a ‘nightmare of Christian thought,’ a pale and perverse shadow of the real thing that was to be exposed in the light of rational day by heroic and devout men. While ideas of witchcraft as female, irrational and hysterical underlie their work, the paternalistic misogyny and hyper masculinity of White and Burr meant that the female role in the witch craze was simultaneously promoted and minimised, with, as Machielsen notes, both men seeing the witch-hunt as a battle between two types of male elites. Its cast of rival masculinities featured those who believed in the phenomenon, while their critics were perceived, by them, to be motivated solely by a desire to undermine their position of power; the female victims and their condition being completely superfluous to this patristic battle for supremacy. Such an essentialist viewpoint simultaneously made the prospect of a male witch a problematic anomaly, given that such a person lacked agency of the heroic male variety. Thus, in Burr’s work, Johannes Junius (mayor of Bamberg executed for witchcraft in 1628) and Dietrich Flade (university rector and electoral judge executed for sorcery in the Trier witch trials) are positioned solely as heroic witchcraft sceptics and righteous opponents of the hunt, with any prospect that the accusations could have had some foundation being completely ignored.

Machielsen suggests that such a view point had a lasting legacy on witchcraft historiography and contributed to the minimising, by both sceptical scholars and feminist revivalists, of the role of male witches within the historical record. In his conclusion, Machielsen also notes how witch-hunt studies in the vein of White and Burr shore up the perennial appeal of the warfare thesis in which it is comforting to glibly see history as a heroic and inexorable march of progress that defines itself in opposition to the theological missteps that it hopes to have relegated to the past, but which still threatens to burst through the blurred temporal boundaries.

The War on Witchcraft is basic in its formatting, the body set in a standard serif, exhaustive footnotes tidily footnoted, with the occasional image sprinkled throughout. Everything is purely functional, right down to the lack of new chapter pages, with each chapter flowing through on the page, separated only by a title in an aberrant blue typeface. As a concise history of the thoughts of two men, The War on Witchcraft is a joy to read, providing an insight little available elsewhere.

Published by Cambridge University Press

by

The Faeries’ Oracle – Brian Froud and Jessica Macbeth

No comments yet

Categories: faery

The Faeries' Oracle coverFor children of the 1980s, and even beyond, Brian Froud should need no introduction, being responsible for the creature and conceptual design of two quintessentially 80s fantasy movies, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, as well as the latter’s 2019 prequel series on Netflix. In addition to his role in those films, Froud works principally as an illustrator, producing a variety of books on faeries and goblins, including the satirical Lady Cottington series of pressed faeries albums in collaboration with Terry Jones.

The Faeries’ Oracle draws upon one of these books, 1998’s Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, which Froud explains came as the result of wanting to create a faery-themed oracle deck (described more specifically later in the book as a “human tarot with faery in it”). After spending weeks to research and complete just a single card, Froud realised it would take him a life time to complete an entire deck in this manner, so he instead decided to include every faery image he thenceforth created in a future deck, thereby allowing the faeries themselves to shape its form and direction. This decade of work was first collected in Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, which Froud describes as a book through which the various faeries gave glimpses of their world and provided clues as to how humans might communicate with them.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

This attitude speaks to how Froud, despite his relatively mainstream status as a designer for big budget fantasy movies, identifies himself as a trafficker not in the dreams of Hollywood but in the reality of faery; as someone who very much believes in the faery as literal beings and their realm as an actual, if insubstantial, place. As co-author Jessica Macbeth writes, Froud is someone who lives at the boundary between Faery and this world, using his artwork to act as an ambassador across realms. It is worth noting that the term faery is used here as a catchall definition under which all manner of otherworld creatures, and not just the fae, can be counted. Thus, for Froud and Macbeth, faery encompasses elves, gnomes, domestic spirits of various stripes, otherworldly folk both small and large, and even, oh crumbs, angels. As a place, Faery is defined as a world that sits alongside our own, almost but not quite in synchronisation, overlapping in some situations and operating on a different level of energy.

The Faeries' Oracle spread

Froud is not the only one to pursue this personal and literal approach to the faery and Macbeth does likewise, describing the selection of the images for the deck as a process in which these creatures were intimately involved. She details how the images from Froud’s decade of work, about 120 paintings, were laid out before her to determine who amongst them would be included in the deck. They, that is the faeries, directed her to arrange the images in stacks, rows and circles, until after many hours they appear to have objected to the implicit hierarchy that such systems lent themselves to. Throughout this account, Macbeth refers to things that various faeries said, so while the literalness of her description could be open to interpretation, and the specifics are never mentioned, it creates an impression of a very active, near physical intersection with the otherworld.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

Froud’s card designs do reflect the decade-long process of image accumulation. While they are always in his indubitable and unique style, there are a variety of techniques and minor changes in composition that might not have been there if the approach had been more focused on the end goal. Thus, although the majority of the images are rendered in rich, colourful oils, the cards for Myk the Myomancer, Geeeeeooo the Slow and The Oak Men, for example, stand out in a jarring manner with their sketched grey pencil lines. They also appear to be taken from a single source image, meaning that the figures feel unnaturally cropped, as if they were never made to stand on their own or to fit into the dimensions of the card. This is particularly true of another of the pencil cards, Ta’Om the Poet, who is cropped on all sides, as if he’s been crammed into a prison-like frame, his head suffering worst of all when the border shears off the tips of his pointed ears and horns. The same sense of detail shots from a wider painting occurs amongst the cards in the low thirties (including the exquisitely, though inexplicably, named UnDressing of a Salad), which each share a similar background of a tangled brown mass of figures and foliage, against which a few hero figures stand out. Similarly disappointing is the artwork used for card 51, The Topsie Turvets, which will be familiar to anyone who handles the deck for a few seconds as it is also employed as the backing design on all the cards.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

Other variations of art styles are less noticeable, with a kinship between some that have a polished and pastoral quality, and others, such as the Singer cards and similar, which are more abstract, imbued with an angelic and celestial feeling due to the white highlights that convey a sense of fae luminescence. The most successful cards are those where figures stand alone, looking out at the viewer, surrounded by unearthly glows and spots of phosphorescence. It is these cards that give a real sense of beings leaking through from the fae realm to communicate with you.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

As is evident in the names of some of the faery, there is a Froudian sense of humour that permeates this deck, with many of the figures being cute, whimsical and basically little scamps. However, there is a depth to the cosmology that Froud is a conduit for, with these humorous characters being joined by more unknowable, ineffable ones, along with figures of profound elemental power and beings of clear mythological significance. Macbeth’s explanation of each card is detailed, with biographies of each faery and sometimes a back story about the painting they come from. Somewhat lacking, though, is a consistent explanation as to how this information was received and how these faeries were named, whether they were transmitted to Froud, or to Macbeth, or how much is drawn from traditional sources.

The Faeries' Oracle spread

Based on feedback on Amazon.com, it would appear that recent versions of The Faeries’ Oracle use poor card stock and have other production issues, but this original edition presents the cards at 3 by 5 inches on a sturdy stock whose weight is comparable to a set of playing cards. They sit comfortably in the hand, not too big to shuffle but not too small as to do a disservice to the artwork, which is framed in copper with a ragged edge on the left and a hard edge on the right The number of each card appears in the top right, while the name sits at the bottom, overlapping art and border, and rendered in a script face that, whilst charming and mysterious, occasionally risks veering into inscrutability with all of its spirals and filigree.

The deck is presented in a cardboard tray made from a metallic gold stock with a custom alcove for the cards, all of which is further housed in a large slipcase box with full colour wrap-around printing. A 208-page hardcover book with text by Macbeth sits above the deck in the box, providing the background to the cards and several methods of working with them, The lion share of the book is taken up with thorough explanations of each card (with the images rendered at a quarter the size of the page in a blue wash instead of colour or greyscale).

The Faeries' Oracle box, book and cards

For those drawn to them and their realm, The Faeries’ Oracle is a valuable and comprehensive tool that can be used either for divination, or for simply connecting with those energies. Froud’s depiction of faery is idiosyncratic to be sure, but there will be some, if not all, elements that ring true for anyone that has encountered it before. It also just pretty, and if none of it resonates on a spiritual level, there’s a least some lovely artwork to be had.

Published by Fireside

1 2 3 4 5 17 18