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.
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?):
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.