Posted tagged ‘books’

Quick Update – The Horror! The Horror! (Anthology)

December 20, 2011

Hi everyone!

Some of you know about this already, but for those who don’t, I’ve recently been published among a host of other excellent authors (including a few of my fellow podkin) in the latest release from Misanthrope Press. It’s called Etched Offerings: Voices from the Cauldron of Story, and features dark fiction with a magical, pagan-y, or generally metaphysical bent. My story is called “Wolves,” and deals with an ice storm, a teenaged ghost, and an old man who really likes hot dogs with mustard. Oh, and the titular wolves appear at some point, too.

Misanthrope Press has been putting out some really neat anthologies lately, including this one and Children of the Moon, a werewolf compilation. They’ve also got a great dark speculative fiction magazine called Title Goes Here that is worth checking out.
Okay, shameless plug done! Go take a peek at these stories and let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 147 – Reviews and Recommendations

December 16, 2011

Hi all!

I’ve been reading a lot lately (but then, when am I not?). I’ve also managed to catch a couple of great movies as well. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on them with you! The excerpts below are the slightly abridged versions of the full reviews found over at Pagan Bookworm, so head over there if you want the full report.

1)      The Book of English Magic – by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate (Overlook, 2010)

If you have spent much time studying occult literature, you know that Great Britain is rife with magical lore: fairies, Arthurian legends, druidry, cunning folk, etc. In The Book of English Magic, Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate make the not-too-audacious claim that Britain’s magical history is one of the richest—perhaps the richest—in the world. They approach their subject by examining a mix of history, folklore, and modern practices to attempt to piece together a portrait of Britain as an enchanted isle. While I think that they succeed in presenting a magical portrait of a magical land, I also think that the authors are by turns too broad and too narrow. They do a wonderful job looking into subjects like English alchemy and dowsing, providing a number of excellent resources to discover more about each topic. They also dwell overlong on the concept of druidry (not surprising considering it is one of Carr-Gomm’s chief fields of interest—he is also the author of Druid Mysteries, the Druid Plant Oracle, and the Druid Animal Oracle). The paucity of sources supporting some of their research means that while some chapters seem tight and focused, others seem only loosely woven together. They hardly plumb the depths of what is called Traditional Witchcraft, and the concept of cunning folk is given surprisingly short shrift considering how close to contemporary some of that material is. The inclusion of practical exercises gives a slightly ‘workbook’ feel at times, which deflates the momentum of the book in some places, but really does seem to serve the overall work.That being said, if one were looking for a good coffee-table introduction to the myriad magical traditions available to the student of British history, this would be an excellent starting point.

2)      The Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbookby Denise Alvarado (Weiser, 2011)

This book is about what author Denise Alvarado calls “Voodoo-Hoodoo,” a term which irks some as the continuing inaccurate jumble of two terms which should remain distinct (Voodoo being a religion and hoodoo being a folk magical practice). However, if one takes the time to read Alvarado’s passionate book on the topic, the Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbook, one can see that she is merely sticking to the terminology most people are familiar with and that the dog of diction has no teeth to bite when it comes to New Orleans-style magic. Instead, Alvarado presents a tradition which blends elements of Haitian Vodoun, folk Catholicism, Southern root work and hoodoo, and a touch of New Age spirituality to create a vibrant, current practice. She uses a number of good resources, often primary ones, to support her understanding of a practice she has lived with her whole life (according to her). She also frequently slips away from the facts and into personal experience, but does so in a non-authoritarian way. Her history of Mardi Gras and the magical folklore associated with them is captivating, as is her heartfelt look at the Seven African Powers. When she does slip off of the scholarly or personal track the book can get a bit messy. Her correspondence tables are not a strength, and her inclusion of New Age style tumbled gemstones in her work almost undermines her traditionalism (as it seems fairly obvious that slaves doing similar work in the 19th century would not have had polished rose quartz to work with). She is flexible and fluid towards Christianity, though here it should be pointed out that she neither says one must work with Christianity nor one must work with African Traditional spirituality. People are looking for spells, and this book definitely has those. There are spells for love, luck, money, protection, and half-a-dozen other needs. Hundreds of spells and workings are contained in this book, as well as recipes for conjure oils and powders, instructions for candle working, and a discussion of poppets and dolls in magical work. Some of them seem totally reasonable within the context of her presented practice, and some seem a little forced. This book fits nicely on the shelf next to other “hoodoo 101” texts, while offering a few doors to open for a reader looking to go deeper.

3)      Old World Witchcraft – by Raven Grimassi (Weiser 2011)

Don’t buy this book. I’m not even bothering providing a link to it. I’ve done a full review at Pagan Bookworm, but let me just say this text is badly researched, mis-cites or fails to cite sources, argues with scholars without presenting their actual point of view/argument, claims that graveyard dirt is just the powdered ash of tree leaves gathered in a cemetery, and says that you can become deeply knowledgable about a plant by studying its sigil. It’s bad history, bad herbalism, and bad witchcraft. All in all, this is a book which suffers from broken clock syndrome (as in, “a broken clock is right twice a day”). He occasionally hits on interesting ideas or brings up worthwhile concepts, but mostly he seems to be posing an elaborate fantasy as a pseudo-historical reality, with very little scholarly backbone to support his claims. When someone prods the gear works, the whole contraption just seems to fall apart.

4)      American Mystic, directed by Alex Mar (Empire 8 Productions, 2010)

Director Mar turns the camera on three different but spiritually similar people: Kublai, an African American man who belongs to the Spiritualist Church; Chuck, a Lakota Sioux sun dancer; and Morpheus, a pagan witch and Feri tradition priestess. The director captures the challenges of these faiths, including both internal and external struggles. While there is an element of novelty to the practices of each film subject, the director never lets curiosity turn into spectacle. The Sun Dance, which can be grueling for participants, is not simply a show of blood and muscle, but rather connects Chuck to his family in a powerful way. Kublai seems to struggle with just how much he believes in his own spiritual gifts. And Morpheus senses her displacement in the modern world, while at the same time she does not shy away from the society of other people.  The film does have its flaws, but keeps a sensitive and intelligent lens focused on these subjects and their deeply-felt spiritualism. This is a rare and lovely documentary on mysticism as seen at the ground level. Available on Netflix.

5)      All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, directed by Tim Rutili (IndiePix Films, 2010)

In this outstanding independent film from director (and bit player/musician) Tim Rutili, a lonely fortune-teller and magical worker named Zel (played by the radiant Angela Bettis) lives in an old country house inhabited by a wide range of unusual ghosts that only she can see. There are dead flappers, priests, blind musicians, and a strange, child-like woman named Nyla (Molly Wade) who cannot speak. Zel is not merely a medium, she is also a deeply talented magical worker. She smartly lays down a salt line in front of her bedroom door every night to keep her ghost-friends out. The director cleverly bookends each section of the film with bits of folk magic, title cards with things like “A wish made while burning onions will come true,” which lends to the overall enchantment of the piece. This is such a lovely and exceptional film that I easily overlooked its flaws in favor of being bespelled by these characters. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Go, watch it now! Available on Netflix.

Whew! So that’s been my reading and watch list (at least, that all the ones I could write reviews about lately). What have you been getting into?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast Special – All Hallows Read

October 28, 2011

-SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL-

Summary
In our very special and rather remarkable Halloween episode, we have original works of short fiction from six talented horror writers. Special thanks to our guests and our listeners!

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery Special – All Hallows Read

-Sources-

I mention the concept of All Hallows Read early on, which is an idea from author Neil Gaiman. All works herein are original and retain the copyright of their authors. They are used with authorial permission on this episode. For your convenience, here’s a rough index of where the different stories and promos are in the show:
0 – Intro
7:40 – “Midnight,” by Saturn Darkhope
25:02 – “A Flash of Red,” by Inanna Gabriel
35:40 – Pennies in the Well promo
36:20 – Children of the Moon (Misanthrope Press) promo
37:53 – “The Crystal Well,” by Oraia Helene
51:10 – The Demon’s Apprentice, “Chapter 2,” by Ben Reeder (read by Peter Paddon)
1:09:52 – “They Dance at the Full Moon,” by Cory Thomas Hutcheson (that’s me!)
1:35:05 – Media Astra ac Terra promo
1:35:40 – Uneasy Lies the Head (Pendraig Publishing) promo
1:36:45 – Lakefront Pagan Voice promo
1:37:34 – “Rushing Water,” by Scarlet Page
2:00:55 – Closing notes/Credits/Outro

Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

All incidental music comes from the Apple GarageBand program and Archive.org

Quick Update – Contest Deadline Extended!

October 24, 2011

Hi everyone!

So we’ve only had a small handful of submissions to our contest, and we really want to get more people to participate to make this audio spellbook concept to be the best it can be. So we are extending the deadline to enter this contest to November 18th, 2011.

You can read the full description of the contest in our original blog post on it, but here’s a quick summation of the rules:

  • Share a favorite spell that you’ve used and which works for you
  • Files <5 minutes in length, in .mp3, .m4a, AAC, or .wav format
  • Tell us who you are and where you’re from, generally
  • Please tell us all spell components and describe actions carefully
  • Send us your file at compassandkey@gmail.com , subject line: “Audio Spell Contest”
  • Deadline November 18th, 2011

For those of you who’ve already entered, we still have your names in our proverbial hat, but if you’d like to increase your chances of winning, you can get an extra entry by doing the following:

  • Posting about the contest w/ a link back to this page in Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Sending us an email or leaving us a comment here telling us that you’ve linked the contest

We’ve got a better lock on the prizes, too! We’re going to do books by authors who have appeared on our show, including:

Prizes and winners will be picked at random, but any of these books would be a great addition to a magical library.

If you’ve already submitted and want to do another entry, feel free! Every submission gets you an entry into the contest.

Here’s hoping we hear from you soon! (Pretty please? With magical cherries on top?)

-Cory

Blog Post 135 – The Magical Catholic

August 31, 2011

Good morning everyone!

Last time I touched briefly on the practice of curanderismo, which is a Hispanic system of folk magic centered upon healing, jinx removal, and protection/cleansing rituals. I also mentioned that it takes a lot of its magical cues from Catholicism, albeit in a syncretic and flexible form of that religion. I received a comment on that post, too, which raised a thoughtful question about Catholicism in the New World and why it might have been seen as ‘magical’ or why its presence can be felt so strongly within magical traditions on this side of the Atlantic. I think that much of this attitude appeared in the Old World after the Reformation, when the broad brush of ‘papism’ or ‘pope worship’ was being used to paint the embattled Catholic Church. Some of the best illustrations of the Protestant perception of ‘the magic Catholic’ come from a tome which has informed witchcraft studies for centuries, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. In the following passage, you can see how Scot—who associated superstitious beliefs in witchcraft with the foolish ‘superstition’ of Catholicism—clearly links the priest with the sorcerer:

A papisticall charme.

Signum sanctæ crucis defendat me à malis præsentibus, præteritis, & futuris, interioribus & exterioribus:

That is, The signe of the crosse defend me from evils present, past, and to come, inward and outward. (Book XII, Chapter IX)

Scot certainly thought little of such charms, saying later in his book, “HE that can be persuaded that these things are true, or wrought indeed according to the assertion of couseners, or according to the supposition of witchmongers & papists, may soone be brought to beleeve that the moone is made of greene cheese” (Book XV, Chapter V).

To be sure, a number of Catholics have spent years—centuries in fact—fighting against these perceptions and very few mainstream Catholics would cotton to having their religion identified with sorcery or witchcraft. From a perspective of official Church doctrine and approved dogma and praxis, it is vital to note that Catholicism does not condone magic or the use of enchantments and charms, and that they fall in line largely with other Christian groups when it comes to beliefs and religious operations. They believe in Jesus as God (as well as seeing him as part of a divine trinity made up of “Father, Son, & Holy Ghost/Spirit”), they require baptism, they expect remission of wrongdoings (and, in the case of confession, admission of wrongdoing), and believe in an afterlife in which they will be judged by God for the quality of their lives and the state of their souls. There are a number of fine-pointed theological differences between Catholicism and Protestant denominations, but in many ways they are deeply similar.

What we’re looking at here, then, is not the official, dogmatic, Vatican-approved version of Catholicism, but rather a phenomenon which might be termed as ‘folk’ Catholicism. Folk religions are not exclusive to this religion, of course. There are also folk Hindus, folk Daoists, folk Shintoists, and folk Jews, all with varying degrees of adherence to official practice and varying degrees of handed-down traditions from unofficial sources. Folk Catholicism is particularly relevant to New World esoteric studies, however, because it has appeared in several different places. It shows up in the spiritual and magical practices of New Orleans (such as in the work of author Denise Alvarado). It also appears prevalently in Italian-American communities, and occasionally within Irish-American communities.  Both the Foxfire books and Gerald Milne’s Signs, Cures, & Witchery contain examples of Appalachian residents whose beliefs veer towards the enchanted from time to time via a connection with Catholicism. Milne cites the Swiss/German community of Randolph Co., NC, in one such illustration:

“In Randolph County, the Swiss/German Helvetia community observes Fastnacht prior to the beginning of Lent. It happened that in Helvetia, some of the original families were Catholic, and now their pre-Lenten observance is celebrated by all in a non-religious way. At Helvetia, an effigy of old man winter is burned on a bonfire” (SC&W, p. 195)

Milne also points out that festivals like this were a confluence of Catholic traditions (Lent) and non-Catholic ones (the midwinter effigy burning), which took on a mystical significance in their union. Probably one of the best places to look for Catholic folk magic, however, is within the context of the North (and South) American Hispanic communities, which have strong historical ties to more mainstream Catholicism, and yet which also have allowed a beautiful flowering of folk culture in tandem with Catholic expansion, resulting in a rich and fairly accessible magical storehouse.

In the previous post, I have already looked very generally at some of the techniques of curanderismo and brujeria. Both traditions draw heavily on folk Catholicism to provide their magic, including things like the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer as charms against harmful magic, or using tools like holy water, scapulars (a type of loosely-worn ornament which contains religious icons or written prayers), and rosaries to effect change.  In my next post, I hope to get into the specific spells, charms, and tools used within Catholic folk magic. For now, though, I wanted to leave you with some sites and books which might be of interest to anyone pursuing the folk Catholic path.

  1. I highly recommend the Yahoo! Group Catholic Folk Magic, where curanderas, brujos, and a number of other folk magicians with a base in Catholicism share ideas and resources.
  2. You could always give The Discoverie of Witchcraft a good read. It may have been intended as satire and mockery, but it has a heck of a lot of good pseudo-Catholic magic in it, too.
  3. The moderators of the site fisheaters.com would probably balk at my reference to them here, because they mostly focus on actual Vatican-approved Catholicism. However, familiarizing yourself with these ideas and practices is good if you plan to work ‘within’ this stream, and there are actually several pieces of information that veer towards the esoteric which are worth checking out (such as “St. Anthony’s Brief” or “Holy Oils”) [A warning: this site is very traditional, and thus its viewpoints may be controversial; browse at your own risk]
  4. One book that a number of Catholics grow up with is Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints (or at least some version of it). Why do I recommend it here? For the same reason I recommend folk and fairy tales to any aspiring magician—there is more to these tales than what’s on the page. St. Lucy’s removal of her own eyes has a distinctly magical flavor to it, in my opinion, which may explain why her celebration in Scandanavia is laced with esoteric symbolism.
  5. Finally, I would highly recommend the Library Page of the Curious Curandera website, where you’ll find a number of free titles on magical Catholicism, including “How to Pray the Rosary,” “Saints and their Patronage,” and “Prayers for Different Needs.” There are a few (very good) pay titles, too, but it’s hard to beat the wonderful free texts.

That’s all for today! I’ll try to have another post up soon with some more practical elements for you (though it is always possible I’ll get distracted and have a tangential topic). Until then, though…
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 133 – Summer Reading List

August 17, 2011

Hi there!

Today I thought I’d share some of the various books and other texts I’ve been reading over the summer, both for school and for pleasure. Most everything I’ve read has had something I could take from it and apply to magical or folkloric study, though in many cases the connection might be a bit tenuous.  What I hope to illustrate is that reading across broad categories (and, by extension, having broad experiences), can provide you with a lot of good material and insight. At the very least, I hope to wow you with my lexical engrossment. Women dig guys with big libraries, right?

All kidding aside, I hope you find this useful or interesting, and that I am able to show the relevance to New World Witchery. So here we go!

African American Literature

Knowing the culture from which a tradition or practice develops is important, and a large portion of my summer involved becoming deeply familiar with African-American literary culture, which in turn helped me better understand things like hoodoo.

Slave narratives: I read a number of these for my African American Literature course, and then even found myself reading additional titles in this genre as well. Nearly every one I read mentioned at least some magical practice, varying from the presence of a fortune-teller in William Wells Brown’s story to Frederick Douglass’ use of a magical root to keep from being beaten (according to Douglass, who was dubious of its powers, it did seem to work). The attitude in these texts varies pretty widely when it comes to magical practice. Some condone it, some treat it with ambivalence, and some are hostile towards it. Some of the works I read included:

Folklore: We read several authors renowned for their folkloric contributions, and several writers deeply influenced by folk tales. In nearly every case, some element of conjure or rootwork is present, though often only incidentally or tangentially (as in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon). Through studying these works I found new sources of magical lore which function as old fairy tales often do—preserving the folklife information in fictional form. A selection of suggested texts:

I’m sure there were dozens of references to conjure culture I missed in these as well as the other works I read for this class, but in each of them I found something of value related to my magical, spiritual, ancestral, or simply scholarly practice.

Bible as Literature

I’m planning on exploring the magical connections in the Bible elsewhere (it actually wound up being a major component of my final paper for the class, a 20-page monster that essentially argued “no magic=no Bible”). But I thought it might be good to list a few of the major sources I used on that paper, as they revealed a tremendous amount about historical magical practices related to this keystone cultural text.

There were plenty of scholarly articles on the topic, too, and a number of entries in reference books like The Cambridge Companion to the Bible and the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Trying to list all of those, however, would probably be tedious, so I’ll leave them be for the moment.

While I’m not one to say all North American folk magic is biblically based (in fact much of it is completely unrelated to the Bible), the Bible has had an impact on multiple magical systems here, and so I find learning more about it useful. I especially find learning more about it in a magical context useful!

Creative Non-Fiction

This was supposed to be my “fun” course, a writing class in a workshop-style setting. It was actually fairly reading-intensive, too, though. I wound up writing a piece on a somewhat famous conjure personality as part of the course, and got an excellent response to it. I can only think of one book, though, that falls into the New World Witchery camp of texts: Salvation on Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington. This book is about snake handling churches in southern Appalachia, and the portions of it we read for class were eerily magical at times. The author of the book starts off as a non-believer, and even engages in the handling as a non-believer, but finds that a mystical power overtakes him when he’s ‘in the moment,’ so to speak. I definitely recommend it based just on the limited amount we read.

In addition to my school work, I was also spending time reading a number of books for fun, which I’ll hopefully get around to reviewing soon. I’ve already put up a review of Charles De Lint’s Promises to Keep over at the Pagan Bookworm site, and I’m working on reviews for about 3-4 other titles as well. I’m also planning to restart Moby Dick when the fall weather hits, and possibly re-read some Hawthorne, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At any rate, I hope you’ve been having a fun and useful summer, too! What’s been on your reading list the past few months?

All the best, and thanks for reading,

-Cory

Quick Update – Call for Submissions

January 26, 2011

Attention all writers!

I know there are at least a few folks who read the blog or listen to the podcast and who also enjoy wordsmithing in a fictive vein.  In case you haven’t heard, Misanthrope Press is holding an open call for submissions of short fiction to be included in their upcoming Etched Offerings: Voices from the Cauldron of Story pagan fiction anthology.  They’ve extended their submission deadline to the end of April, so I highly recommend you put together your best short story with touches of the magical, the mythical, and the metaphorical and send it over to them for consideration.  Here are some of the details from their website:

“If you are reading this anywhere other than www.misanthropepress.com, we urge you to visit our website and view the full guidelines page. We have had to reject several submissions that did not fit our intended theme because people didn’t fully review the guidelines first; we don’t want you to waste your own time by being another one. Etched Offerings: Voices From the Cauldron of Story is a Pagan religion themed short fiction anthology. We are seeking stories about, or relevant to, contemporary Pagan paths and lifestyles, regardless of tradition. Stories about the gods and goddesses, about modern Wiccans, witches, shamans, and other magickal practitioners, as well as fantasy stories of myth and magick are all welcome…

Stories that retell existing myths and legends are acceptable, but there needs to be an original twist or fresh perspective in the telling…

Stories not strictly about Pagan topics, but featuring Pagan characters are very welcome…

We are not looking for stories that focus too heavily on how difficult it is to be Pagan in our society. It’s a valid issue, very much so in some geographic regions, but it’s not what we want to focus on in this anthology.  We’re looking for stories that celebrate the joys and rewards of following a Pagan path, not ones that lament the challenges we face. If your character faces such a challenge and overcomes it, and your story focuses on the triumph of that, that’s acceptable. We won’t, however, accept many stories of this nature, so keep that in mind when submitting.

Along these same lines, while we will potentially accept a very small number of stories that deal with the clash of religious beliefs and/or groups, we won’t be accepting any stories that directly criticize or bash the beliefs of another group. It’s a fine line, we realize; if you’re not confident in your ability to walk it, pick another topic for your story.”

Full guidelines are available at the Misanthrope Press site, so please head over there and throw your ink-stained hat in the ring!

Good luck, and happy writing!

-Cory

Blog Post 114- Magic Books in the American Colonies: Witch-hunting Books

January 11, 2011

This is the second part of the series on magical texts in America that I started way back in Blog Post 105.  In that article, we looked at the different criteria for “Devil’s Books” that were often cited as a key component of witchcraft during the Colonial era.  Today, we’ll be looking at a few of the tomes that were used by witchhunters in that era to determine just who was a witch, and what to do with one.

In general, witches were viewed as a very real phenomenon during the Colonial period.  In New England, the belief in witches was prevalent enough that “witchfinding” was a legitimate career, just as it was in England (Matthew Hopkins, the “Witchfinder General” being a prime example of this profession).  Other colonies, such as Virginia and Pennsylvania, took a more publically liberal stance towards witchcraft, and regarded it as “bad behavior” rather than any indication of diabolic allegiance.  William Penn once ordered a woman accused of witchcraft to simply “practice good behavior” and insisted to her accuser that there was no law against “riding a broom” (SC&W).  The Calvinist influence on the upper Appalachian colonies may have made them more willing to regard witchcraft as superstition, at least publically.  However, the prevalence of anti-witchcraft charms, talismans, and amulets in all the colonies demonstrates that in private, many folks believed much as the Puritans did—witches existed, and they were dangerous.  Naturally, those who feared malefic magic wanted to know how to figure out just who might be bewitching their cattle, stealing their milk, and spoiling their butter (an awful lot of witchcraft seemed to revolve around dairy products), and so they turned to the manuals available at the time.

Some of the key texts used to seek out, identify, and punish witches were:

The Malleus Maleficarum (Witch Hammer) –  This is probably the most famous of the witch-hunter’s manuals, a heavy tome which set out to prove witches exist, that the were dangerous, that they were (usually) women, and that they could be stopped.  Published first around 1486 in Germany by Swiss-German priest Jacob Sprenger, the Malleus was a central tool of the Inquisition as it pursued those it considered heretics.  The book may also have been co-authored (or potentially solely authored) by Heinrich Kramer, but Kramer was later denounced by the Inquisition, and so authorial attribution has generally gone to Sprenger.  The Malleus is divided into three basic sections:  the first section tries to prove that witches must exist, the second describes how witches are made or how one becomes a witch, and the third section examines methods for detecting and punishing witches.

To give you some idea of what the Malleus contained, here is a section on how one forms a “Devil’s Pact” (I like that subject, if you haven’t noticed):

“Now the method of profession is twofold. One is a solemn ceremony, like a solemn vow. The other is private, and can be made to the devil at any hour alone. The first method is when witches meet together in the conclave on a set day, and the devil appears to them in the assumed body of a man, and urges them to keep faith with him, promising them worldly prosperity and length of life; and they recommend a novice to his acceptance. And the devil asks whether she will abjure the Faith, and forsake the holy Christian religion and the worship of the Anomalous Woman (for so they call the Most Blessed Virgin MARY), and never venerate the Sacraments; and if he finds the novice or disciple willing, then the devil stretches out his hand, and so does the novice, and she swears with upraised hand to keep that covenant. And when this is done, the devil at once adds that this is not enough; and when the disciple asks what more must be done, the devil demands the following oath of homage to himself: that she give herself to him, body and soul, for ever, and do her utmost to bring others of both sexes into his power. He adds, finally, that she is to make certain unguents from the bones and limbs of children, especially those who have been baptized; by all which means she will be able to fulfil all her wishes with his help” (from the Montague Summers translation).

If any of that sounds familiar, well, that’s probably because the Malleus basically served as a repository for folklore about witches and their powers.  Based on stories and legends, an entire system of witchcraft was extrapolated, and then used to seek out and punish those who fit certain molds set by the Malleus.  Punishments for witchcraft could be relatively light, requiring the accused to produce character witnesses: “assigning to you such a day of such a month at such hour of the day, upon which you shall appear in person before us with so many persons of equal station with you to purge you of your defamation.”  Or they could be rather severe, including torture with red-hot irons and eventual execution by fire.  Folklore is serious business when it’s taken too literally, it seems.

The Discoverie of Witchcraft – Reginald Scot’s 1584 treatise on superstition and attack on the Catholic Church became central to witchcraft persecutions not because it advised how to detect and destroy witches, but rather because it set out to completely disprove them.  Scot, who considered the persecution of the poor or elderly which so often occurred during witch-hunts to be abominable, penned this small work in order to prove that any “witchcraft” being performed was pure charlatanism and that only the most foolish of magistrates and judges would subscribe to such ideas.  His method for doing this, however, was to basically lay out in detail a grimoire’s worth of magic.  As scholar Owen Davies puts it:

“Scot, a rather unusual demonological writer in that he was not a clergyman, lawyer, or physician, propounded a rationalist view of religion that went beyond [fellow demonologist] Weyer’s own more cautious view on diabolic intervention.  Yet Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft was a treasure trove of magical information, providing spells, Catholic prayers, exorcisms, charms, talismans, and rituals on how to communicate with angels, demons, and the spirits of the dead.  There were detailed instructions on conjuring up treasure and how to enclose a spirit in a crystal…So Scot produced what amounted to the first grimoire produced in the English language, and while he did so to prove the worthlessness of its contents he unwittingly ended up democratizing ritual magic rather than undermining it” ( Grimoires p. 70).

The Malleus Maleficarum had spelled out a number of magical rituals and spells, too, and so it seems that many of these guides to witch-hunting became, instead, roundabout guides to witchcraft.  Scot’s work, however, ran afoul of King James I of England upon his ascension to power in 1603.  James, who was a fervent believer in witches and demons (and authorized the translation of the Bible which contained the phrase “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” in Exodus 22:18 rather than a more accurate “sorceress” or “person who does evil magic,”  although that is neither here nor there), ordered all copies of Scot’s Discoverie burned.

Wonders of the Invisible World – What sounds like a rollicking travel guide is, in fact, a defense of one of the most notorious witch-hunters in early American history.  Cotton Mather (1663-1728) is best known for his role as a goad and “expert” during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century.  When his part in that particularly tragic series of events (which I hope to explore more in a future article or show) came under criticism, he wrote his work as a means of proving that honest-to-goodness witchcraft was happening in Salem and everyone was darn lucky he was there to help stop it.  After all, witches were blasphemous and diabolical creatures who not only used wicked spells—and okay, occasionally healed the sick, sure, sure—but did so as an intentional affront to Christian dignity and belief.  For example, in a section entitled “The First Curiositie,” Mather says:

“The Devil which then thus imitated what was in the Church of the Old Testament, now among Us would Imitate the Affayrs of the Church in the New. The Witches do say, that they form themselves much after the manner of Congregational Churches; and that they have a Baptism and a Supper, and Officers among them, abominably Resembling those of our Lord.

But there are many more of these Bloody Imitations, if the Confessions of the Witches are to be Received; which I confess, ought to be but with very much of Caution.

What is their striking down with a fierce Look? What is their making of the Afflicted Rise, with a touch of their Hand? What is their Transportation thro’ the Air? What is their Travelling in Spirit, while their Body is cast into a Trance? What is their causing of Cattle to run mad and perish? What is their Entring their Names in a Book? What is their coming together from all parts, at the Sound of a Trumpet? What is their Appearing sometimes Cloathed with Light or Fire upon them? What is their Covering of themselves and their Instruments with Invisibility? But a Blasphemous Imitation of certain Things recorded about our Saviour, or His Prophets, or the Saints in the Kingdom of God” (p. 246)

Mather’s book did not have quite the same effect that Scot’s book or the Malleus did.  Instead, it merely capped the end of some of the most ferocious witch-hunting in New England.  Nor did Mather’s work become a grimoire unto itself as the other texts mentioned here did.  While it certainly offered some ideas of how one might become a witch and what powers might then be gained, there was little in the way of magic actually in its pages.  All in all, that is probably for the best, as Mather seems a bit stodgy and reading a grimoire by him would probably prove a bit dull.

There are other witch-hunting manuals and texts on just how to pursue and prosecute suspected witches, of course.  James I had his own (likely ghost-written) catalogue of the supernatural, Daemonologie. The Malleus was likely influenced by other manuals of its kind like Formicarius, by Swabian priest Johannes Nider.  Modern witch-hunts in places like Africa and India tend not to rely on weighty guidebooks to the world of the unseen and diabolical, though the influence of these texts certainly lingers in the identification and punishment of supposed witches.  I have even heard well-educated American Christian missionaries returning from Tanzania describe entire villages of witches.  While they were cautious not to present witchcraft as the Harry Potter-esque phenomenon that those in the attending congregation might have mentally pictured, they absolutely believed that people with dark, uncanny powers lived in that particular enclave, and that the area was best avoided if at all possible.  Somehow, such admonitions made me want to visit that particular village.  But maybe that’s just me.

While witch-hunting manuals are, mostly, a thing of the past, it is worth noting that websites abound with information on finding and purging witches from one’s community.  I’ll not list them here, as I really don’t want to entangle this site with links to those sites, but a quick Google of terms like “how to get rid of a witch” and “neighborhood witch” will yield some results, including one site which actually says:  “I just read the first booke [sic] of Daemonolgie by King James and I found it highly instructive.”  So, in all fairness, witch-hunting manuals aren’t gone—they’ve just upgraded to digital.

At any rate, I count my blessings that for the most part I live in a place where my magical practice is an asset (albeit a fairly secretive one) rather than a genuine liability.  Hopefully books like the Malleus will one day be historical relics, rather than active references.  Until then, a few extra protection spells can’t hurt.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 106 – Book Review

December 7, 2010

The Faeries’ Guide to Green Magick from the Garden by Jamie Wood and Lisa Steinke, illustrations by Lisa Steinke

When I was asked to review this book from the publisher*, I said yes without knowing anything about it. The title intrigued me, so I thought I’d give it a chance. I have to be honest though, anytime I hear anything about “faerie” books, I’m always a bit wary. Some books can be a bit more new agey than I like, and, dare I say it- a little fluffy. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how this book treats the subject of faeries.

To start out, the authors talk about Man and his symbiotic relationship with the earth. Talk is quickly shifted to a “go green” type of message, and how important this is in order to have any relationship with the faeries. It comes off a bit heavy handed, especially since it’s all information that any pagan already knows. However, Wood and Steinke then go on to explain how they view faeries- as the life forces of plants. They explain that plants are living beings, and that each faerie has an individual energy and personality that is a manifestation of that plant energy. They go on to say that Steinke’s lovely illustrations are her own personal interpretation of that faerie energy. I was really happy with this explanation, as it’s pretty close to my own view of faeries and they explain it in a easy to understand way.

There are a few more chapters on magickal** gardening, green gardening, and complimentary medicine. I found these to be a bit extraneous though, because they only touch on the subjects in passing. I’m glad though, because the best part of the book is what’s next- the Herbal Index. I loved this part of the book. The set up is that each herb has it’s own entry, with 33 of the most common herbs represented. Each herb has Steinke’s illustration of the faerie energy of the herb, a description of the plant, how to take care of it, and some magickal way to use the herb- whether that be an ingredient in a recipe, an ingredient in a spell, or perhaps a way to make your own beauty product. The only thing I found myself wishing for in this portion of the book was an actual picture of the plant/herb. However, since they’re so common, a quick google search will pull up plenty of pictures. I really enjoyed this portion of the book, and I think it would be great for someone new to working with herbs (like me).

Overall, I was pretty happy with The Faeries Guide to Green Magick from the Garden. It is definitely written for those new to gardening, working with faeries, and even to witchcraft in general. Sometimes the tone is almost apologetic for being about “magick”- as if they are writing to the average person who has never even thought about magick or witchcraft before, which is not who is going to be buying this book. I found this to be a bit patronizing at times.

However, the Herbal Index alone makes the book worth it to me. The descriptions, how to care for the plant, a fun way to use that particular herb, and not to mention the wonderful illustrations, all made me think it will be a good book to have in my repertoire. Again, it is for beginners, so if you’re a seasoned herbalist, this book will probably not have enough information for you. But, if you want an easy introduction into working with faeries and working with magickal herbs, then think about checking out this book.

-Laine

*In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher contacted me and asked if I would give an honest review of the book. I haven’t been paid for this review, and I didn’t pay for the book.

**Also, I’d like to note that I don’t usually make the distinction between magic and magick, but the book makes a point of explaining this, so I figured I would stick with that spelling. The same goes with the fairy/faerie spelling.

Blog Post 105 – Magic Books in the American Colonies: The Devil’s Book

December 3, 2010

In an effort to blend the subjects of recent blog posts, I thought today I’d start to look at a few of the key magical texts which would have had an influence on the American Colonies.  Much of this entry will be directed by a reading of Owen Davies’ Grimoires: A History of Magic Books and Witchcraft, Magic, & Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts by Richard Weisman, both of which I highly recommend reading.  I am also pulling from The Silver Bullet by Hubert J. Davis and Witches, Ghosts, & Signs by Patrick Gainer.  I’ll mostly be looking at the English colonies, but the French and Spanish colonies will also enter into the discussion a bit during later articles.

In general, the magical books of the early colonies came in three flavors:  devil’s books, witch-hunting manuals, and grimoires.  The Devil’s Book was frequently thought by Puritan settlers to be the ultimate embodiment of human sin—a willful signing away of one’s soul to infernal powers.  By simply signing one’s name to such a book, a witch gained all her power and lost all her salvation (I use “her” because the popular conception of a witch tended towards the feminine, though male witches were not uncommon either).  Some of the key features of a Devil’s Book and its accompanying rituals were:

The Profaning of the Bible – The witch would have to stamp upon a Bible or otherwise deface it before being allowed to sign.  In some cases, a Bible itself was used to sign the witch into the Devil’s service.  Several Appalachian tales record instances of witches simply making an “X” in a marred Bible to indicate their pact.  In The Silver Bullet, witch Rindy Sue Gose performs this sort of ritual to seal her contract with the Devil:

“Fust, Rinday Sue cut her finger with a knife, and when hit started to bleed, she opened a little Bible and ‘peared to write sumpthin’ in hit with the blood from her finger.  The Devil then nipped her on the left shoulder to give her a witchmark so’s she could suckle her familiar.  Rindy Sue swore to give her soul to the Devil and to work for him the rest of her born days.  Then, the Devil danced with her, and then went into the woods behindst thet tree” (Davis 17).

This action echoes the profaning of the Lord’s name or the recitation of a reversed “Our Father” as a way of breaking the bonds of Christianity for a witch.  Not that you should read much into that, of course.

The Use of Blood as Ink – When witches made their mark, they often didn’t actually sign their name.  In a time when general literacy was still low (though it should be noted that literacy among Puritan men was quite high for the era), not everyone would be expected to have a “signature.”  Instead, they would have a “mark,” often an “X” which they used as an indication of their agreement to a contract.  To personalize this mark in the rituals of witchcraft, a witch wouldn’t simply take an inked quill and make a fancy “X,” though.  Instead, her blood was an indication that the pact bound her body and soul to the Devil.  Puritan minister William Perkins described the process (most business-like) as follows:

“The express and manifest compact is so termed, because it is made by solemn words on both parties.  For the satisfying hereof, he [the future witch] gives to the devil for the present, either his own handwriting, or some part of his blood as a pledge and earnest penny to bind the bargain” (Weisman 36).

The Devil sometimes used a great iron pen to draw the blood from the witch before having him sign his name, and in cases where the book was not a defaced Bible, the great book contained hundreds of other blood signatures from other witches.

Owen Davies observes in his book that the drawing up of a pact between a witch or sorcerer and an infernal representative was nothing new—look at the legend of Faust for example.  What made these New World magical compacts unique was that the witch did not draw up the document herself, but rather was lured into signing a book which she would not take possession of, but rather which remained in the custody of her magical Master.  All her magic, then, would be learned without the aid of books, at least in this model of New England Colonial witchcraft.  Indeed, the Devil presented himself or his imps to the witch as her means for accomplishing malefic magic rather than gifting her the use of dusty tomes of magical lore and spells.  In short, the Devil’s Book was merely a roster of the souls won to his service, and possessed little magical power in and of itself, at least superficially.  However, many witches might claim that a deeper reading of the Devil’s Book phenomenon reveals that the act of writing in blood on a sacred object in fact demonstrates a type of very old and powerful magic.  Thus, such a book, if it could be wrested from the Devil, would be very powerful, indeed, perhaps containing the magic of all those who had signed before.

Next time we pick up this thread, we’ll be looking at the witch-hunting books, and why they may have actually helped more witches in their spellcrafting than they actually hurt by “revealing” them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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