biweekly links 5-3-2017

Steve Bannon and the occult: The right wing’s long, strange love affair with New Age mysticism: old news, but it seems everyone pulled from this article. Lest you think “New Age alternative spirituality is solely the domain of lefty hippies” indeed. See also: Peter Levenda’s “Sinister Forces” Trilogy (too many links to choose from; you know how to Google).

scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Nazis are incinerated by the Ark of the Covenant. The movie's been out over 25 years, this is not a spoiler.
Mind, the last time alt-righties seriously got into weird stuff it didn’t go well for them. Via FerdyOnFilms.com

Weird Norfolk: The Witch’s Heart of Kings Lynn: a modern reminder of an old crime.

From yob to nabob: the astonishing rise of the Tudor merchant adventurer: Stephen Alford tackles international trade in Tudor London. Alford’s “The Watchers” on Elizabethan espionage was a key and enjoyable research resource for The Book so I have faith he can make this seemingly dry topic just as riveting.

biweekly links 2-22-2017

Photo of gunmetal gray statue of an empty hooded cloak
Anna Chromý’s “Il Commendatore” sculpture, Prague. Legend has it that if you toss a coin in the empty hood your enemies can never find you. Author’s own.

Icelandic Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery and the Tragic Case of Jón Rögnvaldsson: For some reason the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft is all over my Google alerts this week. This article addresses the unusually masculine world of Icelandic sorcery, with references at the end.

Want to Unlock the Secrets of the Occult? Art History Holds Answer regards the newly published The Occult, Witchcraft and Magic: An Illustrated History, though the book’s Amazon UK entry has more illustrations than the article.

The duties of an Elizabethan Lady-in-Waiting: useful to me as Jane Dee served Elizabeth I’s lady-in-waiting Lady Howard of Effingham (yes, servants had servants, and so on down the line) before she married John Dee.

Will This App Turn More Readers On to Serialized Fiction?: yes, there’s an app for this too! Radish‘s most popular author writes historical romance. Will be very curious to see how this develops.

Biweekly links 2-8-2017

Here’s what Google Alerts netted for me over the past fortnight:

Queer occult vs. “alt-right” occult: a very different take on the current political turmoil in the U.S. Disclaimer: I am not a practitioner but I find the idea that memes are a kind of magic provocative, to say the least. Thoughts?

Magick as strategy in World War Two: that the Nazis embraced their own twisted form of occultism isn’t news, but the possibility of the English fighting fire with fire in the form of Aleister Crowley is a new one on me. Fantasy, of course, but the facts it’s based on are arguably weirder.

16th-century English Tudor rose pendant unearthed near Moscow Kremlin: before we go all “how did it get there?!” keep in mind that England had a presence in Russia from the time of Ivan the Terrible (a prospective employer of John Dee – but that’s another story). Interestingly I first learned of Englishmen in Ivan’s Russia through Ann Swinfen’s historical fiction as she set one of her Christoval Alvarez books in Muscovy.

Photos: Secret ‘Hole’ to Hide Priests Revealed in Tudor Mansion: Archaeology, hidden passages, and spycraft, my favorites! Researchers used a 3D laser scanner to plot the priest hole’s location in Coughton Court, a “false hole” concealing the real one. Historians believe Nicholas Owens, English Catholic spy and escape artist, created it. Later several of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators used Coughton Court as a hideout.

rectangular alcove in a stone wall
Another priest hole, at Oxborough Hall, UK. By Alasdair Massie on Flickr, some rights reserved.

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 12-28-2016

I’m writing this last link dump of the year just after learning of the deaths of both Carrie Fisher and George Michael. Both too young, both last-minute additions to the seemingly endless list of prominent people lost in 2016. Puts me in a melancholy frame of mind.

Photo of George R. R. Martin with text: I think I'll call this one 2016 - and it's going to be my best book yet
A dose of black humor. Courtesy MemeGenerator.

how to talk about weird things (really, HOW?)

Despite my lifelong interest in the strange and unusual it took me a relatively long time to realize just how strange that is to (some) other people.

Growing up in a family where such inquiry was commonplace and getting the requisite pat on the head for my childhood faked Bigfoot plaster casts etc. it wasn’t until college that I started getting blank silence, laughter, even hostility. So I learned to shut up if I didn’t want to get into long-winded explanations of why I wasn’t a conspiracy theorist, UFO cultist, or what have you.

Alternative religion historian Mitch Horowitz’s discusses the hazards of discussing the occult in the media and many apply to discussing in company as well: the unknown is acceptable as long as you’re flip about it but any hint of serious interest gets conflated with blind belief, and hence, ridicule. This scares off intelligent inquirers and the truly off-the-wall rush in with their pet theories, perpetuating the association with crackpots.

Angry alien says to fellow aliens:
The acceptable face of  the weird. Don’t get me wrong, I find stuff like this funny too. Via.

Which is a damn shame because underneath the silliness and hysteria are some genuine questions like what really happened? and why do they keep on happening? and how do experiencers integrate their experiences into their daily lives?

Though I’m in the business of speculating I try to be aware that I am doing just that – speculating. I’m no scientist (or trained in rigorous scientific method) so I can’t make authoritative statements about the objective reality of strange phenomena. Nor can I discount or ridicule other people’s experiences – I don’t walk in their shoes.

But I can say: it’s ok to engage the weird. It can be done without sacrificing critical thought, though it is difficult. Investigate without assumptions and be ready to accept that you don’t know and may never know. Most of all, anyone who insists they’ve got The Answer(TM) doesn’t.

biweekly links 11-16-2016

Doctor Strange tapped into a fascination with the mystical that was front and center in America when he was created in the 60s – now he casts his spell again: puts the new Marvel universe movie in the context of the character’s origins in controversial 1960s spiritual explorations. I enjoyed it, wish they showed more of the Sanctum Sanctorum (now on Google Maps!). The mentino of the Key of Solomon amused.

Captain America's quote from The Avengers:
Via knowyourmeme.com

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Speaking of books: The Evolution of Clocks and Timekeeping Rare Books from the 15th century to the present at the Grolier Club: including tomes on timekeeping, mechanical clocks, sundials and astronomical tools by Tycho Brahe, Athanasius Kircher, Girolamo Cardano and more.

Renaissance painter Botticelli’s dark side revealed in new film – but did he have one?: known for the delicate beauty of “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”, it’s often forgotten that Botticelli illustrated “Dante’s Inferno” as well. This new documentary explores the Florentine master’s “dark side” whilst arguing that he didn’t have one.  I’d say burning your paintings at the behest of a religious fanatic is pretty dark, or at least depressing.

biweekly links 9-7-2016

Mixed bag this week:

why I do the weird stuff

No, not that weird stuff!

I mean my biweekly link dumps of witches, occultists, strange/obscure history, and academic papers. Why do I post these (apart from their vague relevance to the work in progress)?

Well, I was a strange child. And I had help.

I grew up on an irregular diet of “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” and the occasional surprise “In Search Of” when it aired at odd times on TBS. Also one side of my family nurtured an interest in UFOs, ghosts, cryptozoology, and other Forteana/paranormalia: I remember reading my grandmother’s back issues of Fate Magazine from around age 8, and books got passed around through the mail and at holiday get togethers.

I think the cryptozoology thing grew out of the usual childhood fascination with dinosaurs. My interest was intense enough that by elementary school I was making papier-mâché Loch Ness monsters and a faked plaster cast of a Bigfoot footprint for school projects.

I can’t remember my teachers’ reactions.

shelf of books with titles about UFOs, poltergeists, hidden animals, conspiracies
A “shelfie” of my weird collection. The old Fate mags have long since worn out and been thrown away.

Various family members expressed everything from skeptical interest to full on belief – dinner table conversation could go on for hours. As a child I was fairly uncritical about it all; as a teenager I became more skeptical but sought out anything that made my eyebrows jump – conspiracy theories, alien abduction, prank religions – for the sheer WTFery, if nothing else. I can’t remember how many times I checked High Weirdness by Mail out of the library (oh hey, now there’s an online version!).

And yes, in the 1990s I was a dedicated X-Phile. So many of the stories were already familiar, and the writers did a wonderful job with the source material!

As an adult I’m more detached but my interest remains, though I’ve grown so hard-headed it’s difficult to believe in anything I can’t hit with a hammer, so to speak. At the same time I recognize that subjective experience is relevant to the experiencer, objectively provable or not. In the end it’s not about aliens or ghosts or witches, but about people and how they integrate the unexplained into their lives.

Still, my inner curious child still aches to know: what really happened? What did they really see/experience/find? Through writing fiction I can speculate with the luxury of  not having to prove anything, and I have the freedom to make up answers.

I could (maybe I will) do a whole separate post about growing up as a history buff. Suffice it to say I’m not terribly surprised that two lifelong interests collided to have me writing about Elizabethan magicians ~30 years later.

What about you? Do you have any childhood obsessions that still inform your creative pursuits today? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

biweekly links 3-23-2016

black and white photo of candles, talismans, ritual knives, a crystal ball, and a book with a pentagram inscribed in the cover
An altar with some of Doreen Valiente’s ritual objects. Courtesy the Doreen Valiente Foundation/Culture24

Early modern English Muslims, 20th century occult collections, and fin-de-siècle French Satanists for you: