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 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

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.