Friday, 30 October 2020

necromantic tripos

Buried in a 1925 newsletter from Trinity College, Cambridge we are treated to a fanciful syllabus from analytic realist Charles Dunbar Broad, whom like his contemporary colleagues Bertrand Russell (previously here and here) and G. E. Moore, would have rejected as quickly and wholly as the Platonic forms, that was surely contributed to amuse his students and reads very much like a modern wizarding 101 with courses in magic, alchemy and astrology—with practica dedicated to scrying, rhabdomancy and the interpretation of entrails—to name a few.

A special disclaimer section follows of prohibitions that enrolees are to adhere to, for instance on the Evocation of Elementals: Owing to the terms of the fire-insurance on the College buildings it is necessary to prohibit absolutely the evocation of Salamanders in rooms in College. It is an immemorial rule of the College that the baths are “places for ablution and not for the evocation of Undines.” “No member of the college may make, have in his possession, melt, or transfix a mommet [poppet, a voodoo doll] of the Master or of any of the Fellows, Chaplains, Librarian, or Organist. Bedmakers have instructions to report immediately to the Dean of College the presence of any mommet that they find.” And on Levitation and Bilocation, they are “strictly forbidden in Hall, Chapel, the Library, and during lectures.” All in all, this seems like a pretty fun, charming curriculum and Broad’s pupils must have gotten a kick out of it.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

the pharmacological merits of apotropaic magic

Just as drills for a zombie apocalypse is a useful heuristic for disaster-preparedness in general, so too are models of the inevitable vampiric saturation of run-away predation verses a more managed approach a tool for understanding contagion and immunity. Deferring to science, Dracula will always best our superstitions and folk-interventions.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

hocus potus

Just as the Twitterati has formed broad cliques reflective of larger social orders, WitchTok—the portmanteau of TikTok for practitioners of hexes and witchcraft—is a real and popular phenomenon reportedly and is being credited by some with infecting Trump with COVID-19.

While we don’t think that’s how magic works, we’ll certainly let them cast their spell and encourage more, seeing that that coven that claimed to curse Trump the night of the inauguration might need to check their work. Oh yes, and please vote—unless you want more of over-reliance on homeopathy essential oils and accusing ones neighbour of suffering a witch to live out of deep desperation as ones healthcare and jobs disappear.

Monday, 5 October 2020

ius canonicum

This date, marking the occasion of his death in 1926 (*1841), is the veneration of the Blessed Bartolo “Rosario” Longo, a lapsed Catholic and former satanic priest, who returned to the Church and championed praying the Rosary—for which he was awarded a papal knighting and beatification posthumously. Against the wishes of his family who wanted Longo to pursue a career in teaching, as a young man he went to Naples to study law and came under the influence of the occult and spiritualism trend that was very much en vogue at the time, the Catholic Church seen as less effective in terms of seeking favour or mediumship than witchcraft or other practitioners of the dark arts and universities were the sites of rallying against the pope who was regarded as antithetical to the Italian unification efforts of General Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Longo grew more and more rebellious and joined a satanic cult and eventually was ordained as the priest of one chapter. Growing despondent and anxious by turns, Longo turned to a boyhood companion who convinced him to leave the city and return home to Pompeii and convinced him to return to the Church finding that the rosary calmed his anxieties. Maintaining his law firm, Longo had had been retained as an estate agent by a wealthy countess who became his patron and together founded a confraternity dedicated to the Rosary and acquired a derelict church to reconsecrate as a shrine. A nun from another convent that championed the rosary (there was already an established network) donated a painting of Saint Dominic and Catherine of Siena communing with Mary in prayer. From a junk store and without artistic merit, Longo secretly disliked the painting but hung it in the church so as not to insult. Reports of miracles were attributed to the painting and brought in pilgrims, eventually enlarging it to a basilica, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii. On the advice of the pope, Longo and the countess were married—though remained chaste for the rest of their lives together, fostering children and dedicating themselves to charitable causes.What sort of twist ending would you give this couple?  I suspect they, along with that cursed picture, were recusant devil-worshippers all along, in fear of being persecuted for believing in the wrong magic.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

erbario farmaceutico

Building on a history of reference, anecdote and experimentation already established for millennia at the time of publication of this fifteenth century volume from the Veneto, we appreciated the prompt to learning more behind this category of guidebook known as the herbal (Herbarius, Erbario).
Pairing images that aid in identification with others that represented supposed pharmacological merit—as well as toxic, tonic, culinary and magical properties, extensive accompanying texts and captions inform modern ideas (but certainly do not supplant them—a feature of such collections is that they advance and improve tempered by science and scholarship but are always good to peruse for perspective and perhaps insight) of taxonomy, chemistry and medicine. Much more from Public Domain Review at the link above.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

speak of the devil

Founded on the principle of religious scepticism and gravitating towards the devil in the sense of adversary and ideological foil to theism, the Church of Satan was constituted in the Black House of California Street, San Francisco on this day, Walpurgisnacht, by musician, actor and occultist Anton Szandor LaVey (*1930 – †1997) in 1966.
Explicitly not espousing a belief in the Christian characterisation of the Great Dissembler or in fact any other deity for that matter, the orientation’s high priest saw the value in and reduplicated the organisation and the hierarchy, though as a counterpoint to the control and validation that the Abrahamic faiths demanded and by extension the share of evangelical prosperity that they tout. The Church also recognised the intrinsic value and co-opted some symbolism and ritualistic elements as cathartic and therapeutic—so called lesser magic with the possibility of greater, supernatural magic that was outside the limits of human comprehension yet only ahead of scientific understanding. Learn more about the Church’s history and tenants at the link to their website above.

Thursday, 9 April 2020


In Sweden and parts of Finland—though not an official holiday since 1772—Maundy Thursday, that day of the week already closely associated with witchcraft and magic, was according to old folkloric traditions the day that witches (pรฅskkรคrringar or pรฅskhรคxa, Easter hags which children costume themselves as and entreat parents and neighbours for eggs and treats rather than a bunny) fly off to the legendary island of Blรฅkulla (Blockula—in the ancient rendering and not to be confused with the very real island in the Kalmar strait) to dance with the Devil. Non-celebrants take part also with some frantic spring-cleaning and hiding their broomsticks to keep black magic at bay. The observation ceased being a public holiday in the late eighteenth century with the repeal of the death penalty for practising witchcraft.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

apotropaic magic

An excavation in Pompeii, a Roman city along with Herculaneum frozen in time on 24 August in year 79 AD when with the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius it became buried under tonnes of pumice and hot ashfall, has uncovered a trove of charms and amulets believed to have been the repertoire, arsenal of a sorceress and also serves as a repository of very intimate personal items that fleeing residents might leave in the custody of the sorceress for safekeeping and retrieval upon return.
Each of the items collected in a wooden box that had all but decayed away represents not only its peculiar wish-fulfilment but by extension narratives too intriguing not to limn complete, not to mention what each talisman and totem might signify or hold power over. Included among the evil-eyes (the virtue of keeping away like with like), phalluses, skulls and scarabs were figures of Harpocrates—a Greek syncretisation of the Egyptian Child Horus who represented the new dawn and hope to conquer the day, who matured to adult form by twilight and represented the resilience to come back again as well as discretion and confidence-keeping.

Monday, 20 May 2019

a sigil of jupiter in taffeta with a fair ribbon

Via Miss Cellania’s Links, we are directed to a curated trove of medical records with notes by attending the physicians, astrologers royal Simon Forman (*1552 – †1611) and Richard Napier (*1559 - †1634), that’s been transcribed and catalogued by pathology: witchcraft, venereal disease, demonic possession, blunt trauma, infertility, etc. Contraindications, diagnosis and treatment are usually indicated, gleaned from astrological charting (see also) in most causes—though not always transcribed, spelling modernised and standardised for reference and readability.

Not to betray patient confidentiality but these records are a fascinating look at the state of medical science on the cusps of two ages—the late, late medieval times just before a period of enlightenment and is an interesting contrast between what we’d consider magical thinking and superstition and the wholistic approach to healing. Here’s an example below—with five hundred others to peruse at the site above, a consult the accompanying astral images to divine a treatment plan:

Richard Cowly of Tinswicke, 30 years.
Tuesday 30 April 1605, 9.00 am. A bachelor.
[In chart] afflicted in mind. Frantic & lunatic.
Trine between Saturn and Venus.
7 trine with Jupiter and Mars.
Conjunction between Sun and Mercury.
Square between Jupiter and Venus.
Trine between Jupiter and Mercury approaching May 2.
He came yesterday to Mr Gerent when I was from home & he willed him to be let blood & he is somewhat mended ever since. Keeps his bed. Tuesday was seven nights. Has taken great grief touching one whom he loved & promised marriage & is now married. & he has much thought & grief. Very wild & as one frantic. Much tormented in mind & very sick. Talks idly. Cannot sleep.

Friday, 22 December 2017

subtle allegory or indistinguishable from magic

This short synopsis of the premise of a science fiction premise really resonated with us: first serialised in 2006, Liu Cixin’s award winning (and recently adapted into film) The Three-Body Problem (ไธ‰ไฝ“) proposes that humans have encountered no alien races because extra-terrestrials conspire to contain one another, lest they advance and become a threat.
Introducing this dominant race dispenses neatly with the other reasons aliens are not visiting. Rather than actively disarming and disabling their machines and modes of exploration, the only thing aliens would need to do to humans or any other planet-bound denizen would be to bring in an element of woo and superstition and pseudoscience, maybe a peppering of miraculous events that defy logical explanation to really enforce and cement beliefs. Playing the long-game, the dominant races’ containment-policy ensures it has no competition by undermining trust in science. Given our violent regression to primitive charms and preserving appearances, however, I think that perhaps blaming a technologically superior alien race for keeping humanity relegated to the cosmic backwaters also violates the principal of Ockham’s Razor, lex parsimoniae. We certainly hope that this message is preserved in the theatrical release.