biweekly links 12-6-2017

As we go into the Christmas season, how about some devils?

The Bedevilment of Benvenuto Cellini: artist, duelist, and all-round party boy Cellini also dabbled in the black arts with the assistance of a priest. Another example of the extreme effort of necromancy: this ritual required hours of incantations, magical circles, and a virgin sacrifice (well, bait). Cellini did get his devils, but the inclusion of “drugs of fetid odor” in the process is telling.

For a Brief Time in 1978, Italy Had a Televised Satanic Variety Show: Allegedly created at the request of the Devil himself, “Stryx” ran only 6 episodes and appears to have been an eviled-up version of musical variety shows a la “Sonny and Cher” or “Donny and Marie”. Guests included Grace Jones and Amanda Lear of Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” album cover fame.

Commies, Devils, and Mind Control: How the Christian Right Invented Satanic Backmasking: Ooh, I remember this one! I first read about it in Big Secrets and I remember my sister and I trying to play a Beatles tape (remember those?) backwards. Definitely a phenomena that says more about the listener than the music.

Just to round out the “devil” theme of today’s post. I actually prefer the Who Killed The Kennedys mix [YouTube] but this version’s visuals are more on topic (is the singer dressed up like Vlad the Impaler?):

biweekly links 11-8-2017

Tom DeLonge on JRE: “You Don’t Know What I Know About UFOs (But I Can’t Tell You): Um, yeahhhhh. I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to have The Truth™, especially when they claim they can’t share it – such people are either selling something or being sold something. In DeLonge’s case it might be both: he’s promoting a book that claims to reveal true secrets via fiction, while his unnamed “top government advisors” may be using him for…who the hell knows what. Or maybe the controversy is just fueled by jealous veteran UFO researchers resentful of a newbie with fame and connections. Should I bother to read this, just to figure out what the fuss is about?

screenshot from Raiders of the Lost Ark of government official. Text: Who's looking into the issue? Top...men.
DeLonge’s contacts. Via Memegenerator.

Top 4 Revelations From the New JFK Files: Just the four? From the FBI’s surveillance of MLK to Oswald’s ties to the Soviet Union to wild attempts to kill Castro, there’s something for everyone with a taste for Cold War-era paranoia, and people are still going through these with fine-toothed combs. NPR has put out a call for citizen journalists to share their findings so if you’ve got the time and inclination, go for it.

Religion vs. Superstition: Subtitled “Is Religion Just Organized Superstition? Is Superstition Always Religious?” And yeah, I know I’m wading into a minefield. Talk amongst yourselves.

Reformation “What Might Have Been”s: on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses it’s worth asking: what if the Catholic hierarchy had listened? And did the Reformation ultimately fail because they didn’t?

biweekly links 10-25-2017: the fear edition

These first two links refer to Chapman University’s Division on the Study of American Fears’ report America’s Top Fears 2017. My extremely broad takeaway is that fearful people do and say stupid things, but it’s more complex than that (isn’t it always?) Do check out the site for more details though – it’s a fascinating, if sobering, read.

What do Americans fear most? Researchers release 4th annual Survey of American Fears: the top three are actually pretty rational: corruption of government officials, Trumpcare, and pollution of water. Once you get into the weeds though things get…contradictory. For all the fear of natural disaster, most citizens have no clue what to do in an emergency. Almost a third think Americans need to give up civil liberties to protect themselves from terrorism while an apparent completely different third think exactly the opposite.

From the same study we get Paranormal Beliefs. Roughly 3/4 of the population believes in some unexplainable phenomenon, the top 3 being ancient civilizations, hauntings/ghosts, and ancient aliens. I could be glib and blame the History Channel but:

How America Lost Its Mind: The Atlantic breaks down the reasoning for these apparent irrational fears and beliefs far better than I ever could. There’s a lot to unpack here but the gist is: the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos and conservative fear of the same combined with American exceptionalism to create a present in which subjective belief is considered on a par with objective reality. No one is immune, either, not even the “reality-based community” derided by Karl Rove.

I’d like to think myself a champion for the validity of subjective experience, but I have one strong caveat: those experiences are only valid to the experiencer – you can’t demand everyone else play along. In order to do anything in this world people have to work with an agreed upon “baseline reality”, if you will, and that doesn’t include that which can’t be proven. Belief in something doesn’t make it so.

But yeah, we live in a world where that needs to be said aloud.

biweekly links 10-11-2017

Sylvia Plath and the Occult: Interview with Julia Gordon-Bramer: I leave it to the experts to determine how serious Plath was about tarot cards but to my inexpert mind Gordon-Bramer may be onto something.

New documentary is a magic portal into a weird and wonderful library: this 90 minute doc on the Ritman Library explains what they mean by “western esotericism” with abundant gorgeous shots of historic tomes from their collection. Available free through Amazon Prime (at least last week) if you love magical history and/or illustrated manuscripts, check it out. Should I ever get to Amsterdam this library is on my list of must-sees.

Borley Rectory animated documentary: the trailer evokes early horror films and steampunk but I’m willing to see if it winds up being more substance than style. As this “most haunted house in England” burnt down in the 1930s, I wonder what the most haunted is now?

writing on wall:
Ghostly(?) writing from the wall of Borley Rectory. I always found this image deliciously eerie. Courtesy Tumblr.

You Can Now Visit a Witch Museum in Cleveland: the Buckland Gallery of Witchcraft and Medicine has bounced around the states for years and is currently (permanently?) attached to a record store. Advertising is minimal (they’re concerned about how they’ll be received) but open during some regular hours and by appointment.

biweekly links 9-27-2017

Bess of Hardwick in spotlight of new play: about time! Perhaps best known as the woman who kept Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest, she became the second richest woman in Elizabethan England through both strategic marriages and shrewd business dealings. Definitely worthy of her own play. Her stately Hardwick Hall still stands.

How Renaissance Painting Smoldered with a Little Known Hallucinogen: Not THAT unknown. Short version: some artists were heavily influenced by ergot poisoning, either by their own experiences or from observing others in the throes of “St. Anthony’s Fire”. I’m unsure what to make of this – on the one hand artists must get their inspiration from somewhere, on the other it suggests lack of creativity if  they were just depicting their hallucinations to the last detail. Full disclosure: I love Bosch’s work and prefer to think he was just that inventive. Thoughts?

Painting of man in throes of agony, covered in pustules.
LSD may be derived from ergot fungi but St. Anthony’s Fire looks like a bad trip to me. Painting by Matthias Grünewald of a patient suffering from advanced ergotism from approximately 1512–16 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Books Discovered Once Again is a Czech-Norwegian project dedicated to identifying, cataloguing, and returning to original owners/libraries non-Bohemican volumes found in the Czech public libraries. Related: According to the historians on this project, the “Himmler’s occult book stash found in Prague” story I linked to last year isn’t true. Thus far they’ve found “common philosophic literature, yearbooks of lodges, some Masonic poems collection and so on” but nothing explicitly occult. Old news offered belatedly and borrowed (thanks Astonishing Legends) but I don’t want y’all running around with the wrong info.

biweekly links 9-13-2017

Sally Quinn’s Next Act: how have I never heard of this woman? Journalist, tv presenter, and fixture of DC “salon society”, she now reveals her belief in the occult in her new memoir. Sounds a bit sensationalistic, but I’m curious how one goes from atheism to casting hexes on enemies (yes, she claims she did that).

Have you got the nerve to take on this spooky tour through creepy cellars and centuries-old cloisters?: The house of William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer) is open for “spooky” tours October 18 through 31. Fun fact: Burghley tried to lure Edward Kelley back to England from Prague to share his secret of gold transmutation. Kelley declined because Rudolf II gave him so many lands and titles that it wasn’t worth his time. He wound up in several of Rudolf’s prisons for failing to make gold when requested–though interestingly, he was never accused fraud.

JFK Conspiracy Theorists Are About to Receive the Motherlode: the remaining classified 20% go public on October 26. Though there are as many conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination as there are conspiracy theorists I’m still curious to know what we’ve been missing for ~50 years.

Tweet from John F. Kennedy:
Too soon? Courtesy Tumblr.

The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic In London Opening: November 2, if you’re in the area. Put together by the Last Tuesday Society, a group that’s been in London since 2006 and is “dedicated to subverting life, the universe and everything bored of the life and world it sees around it seeks to create a new world filled with beauty, wonder and the imagination”. Could be a barrel of fun. Ah, to be in Merrie Olde…

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.

biweekly links 8-16-2017

Major archaeological finds at Greenwich uncover lost Royal palace: archaeologists have found part of Greenwich Palace, where Elizabeth I, her sister “Bloody” Mary I and her dad Henry VIII were born. All they found were the kitchens, but in its time Greenwich was comparable to Hampton Court Palace in size and splendor.

August 7, 1620 in crime history: Katharina Kepler Arrested for Witchcraft in Germany: not a typo, that is astronomer Johannes Kepler’s mom. He defended her himself and did get her released, but this is a stark example of the way superstition persisted in the early years of what we think of as modern science.

Two Massive ‘Sea Serpent’ Oarfish Wash Up on Beaches: if you’re squeamish about the sight of filleted raw fish don’t look, but… take a look at these things! Huge and silver and serpent-like, I find it entirely believable that oarfish are mistaken for sea serpents from time to time.

old fashioned engraving of a sea serpent reared up and blowing water out its mouth like a fountain
The Great Sea Serpent (according to Hans Egede. Courtesy the New York Public Library.

How America Lost Its Mind: from The Atlantic, no less. Much to unpack here: did unfettered intellectual freedom lead to the current climate of subjective feelings trumping measurable fact? And is this relativism run amok a peculiarly American thing?

a fistful of linkage

Because I’m utterly stumped for a topic this week:

England’s new psychedelic renaissance: not a third Summer of Love (yes, there was a second [YouTube]), but less with the (pure) hedonism and more with the science.

Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth-Century England is exactly what it sounds like: a painstaking examination of extant coroners’ reports reveal many, many dangers of everyday Elizabethan life. Maybe I’m morbid but I look forward to checking out their podcasts and bibliography.

The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes: the whole “ancient aliens” thing doesn’t sit well for me and this article explains why better than I ever could. Insisting that aliens must have made [insert marvel of the world here] grossly discounts the tenacity and ingenuity of ancient and/or indigenous peoples. The possibility that hoaxers alter real mummies also runs into issues of desecration of indigenous burials and corruption of archaeological finds.

Photo of incredulous Agent Scully. Text: I'm not saying it was aliens...because it wasn't.
Courtesy Imgflip

biweekly links 7-26-2017

Notorious look at 16th century: check this out! An amateur (!) builder spent 10 years (!) researching and building a replica of a Portuguese caravel. This is the kind of insanely dedicated experiential archaeology I lurve. To my eternal regret I can’t find a website or blog chronicling the building process, but the ship’s Wikipedia page has some information. To find out where it docks next check out its Twitter and Facebook page.

Photo of ship Susan Constant at sunset
Reproduction of the “Susan Constant” at the Jamestown Settlement, no less impressive though it wasn’t made by a single man in his backyard. Author’s own.

A $70 ‘Worry Stone’ and Other Bizarre Spiritual Products You Can Buy Online: I used to have a worry stone – can’t imagine where it got off to but it’s nice to know I can replace it from the comfort of my keyboard. For serious high rollers you can get an “orgon [sic] accumulator” starting at $2000.

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk: One of many articles about the movie, but I think covers history vs. fiction the best. As a former stickler for historical accuracy at all costs, writing The Book has humbled me to the real difficulties of hammering historical events into a compelling narrative. Nolan’s aim was to “put you on that beach” and I think he did so admirably, while sticking astonishingly close to the facts. Not included: why Germany stopped their attack or the fate of those left behind.

Will: 5 ways ‘The Two Gentlemen’ twists history: from painstaking historical accuracy we go to flamboyant liberty with the facts, or at least the image. I’ve not seen “Will” (yet?) but I can’t hammer it’s “punk rock Elizabethan” aesthetic too hard – I love artful anachronisms – but opinions differ.