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.

biweekly links 7-12-2017

Hitler Used Werewolves, Vampires, and Astrology to Brainwash Germany: despite the tabloid-esque title, this is a sobering article about a forthcoming Yale U Press book on Nazi exploitation of pre-existing supernatural beliefs to further their ideology. To quote the article, “…in times of crisis, supernatural and faith-based thinking masquerading as “scientific” solutions to real problems helps facilitate the worst kind of political and social outcomes.” Indeed.

The Occult Roots of Modernism: Nineteenth century French artist-author-guru Joséphin Péladan is the subject of a new exhibition on the “mystical symbolism” of the artists of his Salon de Rose + Croix. Péladan was part of a wider occult milieu in Belle Epoque Paris that embraced everything from Theosophy to Rosicrucianism to neo-Catharism. If you’re in New York City between now and October 4, you might want to check it out.

Witchcraft and dueling are now legal in Canada: I’m sure they don’t mean together, because combining these could be dangerous…or awesome:

Dueling scene between Snape and Lockhart from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
CanAms will look very different next year. Courtesy Tumblr

The extended weird section

Sometime back I asked if y’all had any interest in a link dump of esoteric/occult/paranormal-oriented publishers and bookstores. The response was a resounding “yes”, so I’ve scoured my bookmarks for you!

How I look browsing in a used bookstore: photo of average guy looking through mundane stack of books. How I feel: picture of Gandalf perusing ancient manuscripts
Via Tumblr.

Some disclaimers:

I’ve not shopped with all of of these, so I can’t vouch for quality of customer service or wares in all cases. Additionally, given the controversial and strange subject matter I can’t vouch for the credibility of all content either. Use your critical thinking.

And as ever, feel free to include your own favorites in the comments!

Publishers:

Llewellyn Worldwide: Publishes Steven Skinner’s large format of John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries and the Key to the Latin of same. In addition to the usual new age standards (tarot decks, divination, spiritual/relationships) they have a blog with related content, most recently a post about the American Gods tv series.

Salamander and Sons: “esoteric, occult, and arcane book publishers”; their Modern Magistery imprint focuses on modern practices and their Unearthed Arcana revolves around historical practitioners and facsimilies of old manuscripts.

Teitan Press: publisher of scholarly works primarily focused on Aliester Crowley and Frederick Hockley.

Nephilim Press: “a trade publication that specializes in the rare and unique subject areas of the occult and arcane, that many major publishing companies consider too controversial to print”. Apparent focus on grimoires contemporary and historic.

Scarlet Imprint: founded in 2007 to publish a “progressive catalogue of books on the Western magical tradition, witchcraft, the African Diaspora religions, esoteric poetry, drama & occulture”. Their online journal is up to date and includes a post with videos from last year’s Trans-States conference, featuring keynote speaker Alan Moore.

Feral House: “innovative and celebrated non-fiction books since 1989”. A very mixed bag; the front page alone features a Muhammed Ali coloring book, a canning and fermenting guide, and a history of the Process Church of the Final Judgment. These plus their categories of “realpolitik”, “kulture”, “crime”, “sex”, and “death” suggests an eye-opening browsing experience if nothing else.

Steamshovel Press: zine founded by veteran conspiracy theorist Kenn Thomas in 1992, they boast “All conspiracy. No theory”. Go here for a plate of UFOs and JFK with sides of lesser-known rabbit holes.

Darklore: “journal of exceptional observations, hidden history, the paranormal and esoteric science”. Based on the URL I think they’re associated with the Daily Grail website. Hat tip GeeCee.

Paraview Press “publishes unique and original books by well-known authors and researchers in the paranormal, spiritual, UFO, and conspiracy-theory field”. I’m mostly familiar with them for publishing much of Nick Redfern’s prodigious output.

Rubedo Press “publishes works of scholarship, philosophy, æsthetics, and esotericism, as well as critical translations of source texts previously unavailable in English”. For what it’s worth, “For explicitly scholarly projects, Rubedo Press offers a strict double-blind peer-review process, drawing on an international panel of interdisciplinary authorities.”

Correspondences: “online journal for the academic study of Western esotericism”; comes out once a year.

Richard Dolan Press (formerly Keyhole Publishing): originally founded to publish Dolan’s “UFOs and the National Security State” duology (Vol 1 1941-1973; Vol 2 1973-1991) its catalog is growing.

Vendors/Stores:

InnerTraditions: online only shop with the usual new age fare.

Discount New Age Books: similar, at lower prices.

Atlantis Bookshop: self-proclaimed “London’s oldest independent occult bookshop”, they have a limited online presence but have long been London’s esoteric hub, hosting Gerald Gardner‘s coven among others.

Seven Stars: Cambridge MA; limited web presence but highly recommended on Yelp. Also carries crystals and other new age paraphernalia. Hat tip Michael Grasso.

Crystal Blue: this shop has been in Atlanta since I was a little quasi-goth wandering around Little Five Points. Crystals, books, and more.

Hledající knihy: online esoteric bookseller out of Prague. Most offerings in Czech; I include for completion’s sake.

Book Reviews:

Magonia Review of Books: formerly a magazine and now an extensive book review site, I’ve found it a valuable resource to find the wheat in this chaff-heavy field. Based out of England, they host regular Magonians In the Pub meetups so check them out if you’re in the neighborhood.

And bonus:

Esoteric Book Conference: Seattle-based conference, the latest information is from last year. No word yet on 2017 though given that it goes back to 2009, I’m hopeful.

biweekly links 6-21-2017

Crazy busy this week preparing for the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland OR (I am in transit as you read). Here’s a link dump of various curiosities from AwesomeCon this past weekend:

Legendary Comics Announces New Series “Cursed” from John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman, and Erika Lewis: yes, that John Barrowman, of Torchwood and Dr. Who fame. Didn’t know he wrote, or that he had a sister to write with, but this Celtic mythology-infused comic about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cursed descendant sounds very promising.

ReDistricted: Atypical Stories about Washington D.C.: It’s a webcomic about off-the-beaten-path DC history. It’s free, and every story has footnotes! What’s not to love? I’m shamefully unaware of the huge scope and quality of non-fiction history comics out there; it’s time that changed.

Connections Wargaming Conference: Advancing and Preserving the Art, Science, and Application of Wargaming: lest you get a mental image of weekend D&D campaigns or MMPORGs, wargaming is a serious simulation tool for scenarios military, economic, and academic. Much of the panel on this went over my head, but then I’m not even a recreational gamer. I’m pleased someone does this kind of work.