biweekly links 8-20-2017

I spent the eclipse with Asheville’s witches: I know Asheville mostly as the home of Biltmore House and former home of Moogfest, and while it seems an artsy, crunchy granola college town I didn’t know much about their pagan community. They seem fairly large but their interpretations of the eclipse are as varied as the pagan community itself. (Additional weird resource: Asheville Raven & Crone. No online shopping but a decent overview of their stock, plus event calendar).

Keeping secrets in sixteenth-century Istanbul: Holy Roman vs Ottoman Empires with ciphers and invisible ink! Of interest to me because Rudolf II managed his war with the Ottoman Empire so poorly that the rest of his family switched their support to his brother Matthias, thus beginning the end of Rudolfine Prague’s moment as art/occult capital of Europe.

Make America Ghostly Again: The Demon Cat of Washington D.C.: one of my favorite ghost stories ever! Said to have predicted both Lincoln’s and Kennedy’s assassinations, the cat also evidently enjoys scaring people to death (which, let’s face it, all cats would do if they could).

Orange cat sitting in cardboard box
Spice, the demon cat of my household, is bigger and scarier than her DC counterpart. She is very certain of this. Author’s own.

Witches Allegedly Stole Penises and Kept Them as Pets in the Middle Ages: but did they get along with the witches’ cats? Seriously though, this myth says more about the witch-hunters than the witches. Link includes possibly NSFW medieval penis-tree imagery, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

blogs of note

A few of my recurring online reads:

We Are The Mutants: cold war pop culture with an occult bent. Articles of note: 1970s EVP equipment (warms the cockles of my In Search Of-loving heart), French New Wave cinema’s influence on Hollywood sci-fi, Dungeons and Dragons as occult gateway drug – in a good way. Quality writing on subjects that only seem unrelated.

David Halperin: religious studies prof and former UFO investigator, Halperin balances critical thinking and compassion. His series on the 1966 UFO incident in Westhall, Australia illustrates the unreliability of eyewitness accounts without ridiculing the witnesses, and his two-parter on “The Supernatural” presents a spin on Whitley Strieber’s famous “abduction” experiences that’s neither credulous nor dismissive.

Startling photo-realistic painting of grey alien with huge, slanted, ink black eyes and a Mona Lisa smile
The famous “Communion” cover, from the book’s Goodreads page. Included because 30 years on it still startles the crap out of me and I wanted to share the joy.

Halperin’s post on “The Supernatural” led me to Strieber’s co-author Jeffrey J. Kripal, another scholar of philosophy and religion. He emphasizes “robust and even conversation between the sciences and the humanities”, which I am ALL about. His book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna seems to have enraged and enlightened in equal measure, so surely he’s doing something right. $DEITY knows when I’ll have time to read his books, but this two-part interview on the Where Did The Road Go?  podcast serves as a useful primer on Kripal’s work and perspective.

biweekly links 11-2-2016

Happy (belated) Halloween/Samhain/All Hallows/etc! I can’t top the biggest early modern European news of the last 2 weeks (Christopher Marlowe Officially Credited As Co-Author Of 3 Shakespeare Plays) but I’ll try:

Woodcut of
A sea-bishop from Johann Zahn’s 1696 work Specula physico-mathematico-historica notabilium ac mirabilium sciendorum (that’s a mouthful). By Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/library/libr0081.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

biweekly links 10-19-2016

Vampires and alchemy and murder-investigating witches, oh my!

horny devils: the vejigante of Puerto Rico

I am fresh from a week’s vacation in Puerto Rico! Save some fencing, I did very little save read, rest, and walk around Ponce’s historic downtown. The weather was gloriously warm, the food excellent, the company better, and the rest much-needed.

Needless to say I ran into neither USOs, nor the chupacabras of cryptozoological lore (though there were iguanas, many iguanas) because weird stuff doesn’t happen to me. But I did get a taste of Puerto Rican folklore at the Pan Am Championships’ opening ceremony:

three dancers in brightly colored robes and horned masks in sports stadium
Vejigantes on the piste. Author’s own.

These colorful critters are vejigantes (bay-he-GAHN-tay), a sort of all-purpose demon (or family of demons) that evolved out of the meeting of Spanish, African, and native Taíno cultures.

A quick whip around the web reveals the name comes from “vejiga” (Spanish for cow bladder) and “gigante” (giant) in reference to the dried, seed-filled cow bladders they use as “weapons” at festivals like the annual Carnaval Ponceño.

Most striking are the masks (careta) made of papier-mâché and/or coconut husks. Colors and patterns vary by geography (those above are from Ponce) but bright colors, teeth, and horns seem to be constants. This long-standing folk art is specific to Puerto Rico, and though how-tos (PDF) abound I suspect they don’t stick to traditional methods.

Examples of varying quality were on sale everywhere, in every size from fridge-magnet-small to half my height! I could only get this ~4″ sample home, it’s spiky horns protected inside the hard shell of my fencing mask:

Small black, green, yellow, and red mask with pointed open mouth and five horns
My Ponce souvenir

The man who sold this to me said it represents the wife of the “main” vejigante. I haven’t found any list of characters or their relationships so far and it frustrates me that I’m ignorant of the stories behind the imagery. The temptation to research is great but unavailability of info may be for the best – I have no business doing new research when The Novel is still in progress.

biweekly links 5-18-2016

  • I lived in Georgia half my life so of course I’d never heard of Lake Lanier’s legends until I read about them on an Australian paranormal news site. Evidently its got a giant catfish and ghosts, the latter the paranormal result of leaving entire towns (and cemeteries?) intact beneath its muddy waters.
  • The Ghost Rockets Investigational Portal is a searchable database of Swedish military UFO reports. It’s also the starting point for a crowdsourcing effort to tag and translate the documents into English.
  • The original Globe Theater is long gone, but The Curtain has been found. It seems the archaeologists are rushing to outpace impending new construction over this Shakespearean theater, but there will be a visitors’ center for the dig once excavation is complete.
  • More London: “A series of talks on alchemy and magic” are planned for June 4th and 5th to support the restoration of Brompton Cemetery. Featuring all the hits: Dee, Faust, Paracelsus, and even a theremin concert. Ah, to be in Merrie Olde…
A theremin - a box on a pedestal with an antenna on one side, a metal loop on the other
A theremin – the instrument used to create creepy music associated with 1950s sci-fi films. Courtesy Wikipedia

biweekly links 5-4-2016

mid-17th century leather shoe in poor condition
Shoe found in a cottage in Stockbridge, England. From the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project website.