necromancy: why, how, and why not to do it

Coincidentally, it’s just when the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest that I passed the point in my book where the Papal Nuncio accuses Dee and Kelley of necromancy. Mind, they probably didn’t do it (or Dee didn’t–too goody goody for that), but why would anyone want to raise the dead, and how would they do it anyway?

Black adn white engraving of two men in a nighttime churchyard standing in a magic circle, a skeletal ghost before them.
Fanciful nineteenth century portrayal of “Edw[ar]d Kelly, a Magician. in the Act of invoking the Spirit of a Deceased Person” from Astrology, A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences by Ebenezer Sibly, M.D. F.R.H.S., Embellished with Curious Copper-Plates, London, 1806, courtesy Wikipedia

Technically early modern Christian necromancers weren’t trying to raise the dead–that was seen as something only God could do. No, they just conjured demons who looked like spirits, and used them for a variety of things including finding lost objects, telling the future, controlling other people, or creating illusions.

Kind of mundane, considering the spiritual sketchiness of necromancy and the sheer inconvenience of performing it. You had to consider magic circles, moon phases, and offerings before you even got to the incantations. Check out this bit from Reginald Scot’s 1584 best-seller “The Discoverie of Witchcraft”. Though Scot rejected the reality of witchcraft bits of it read like a how-to, with a surprisingly pious bent:

…I conjure thee spirit by the living God, the true God, and by
the holie God, and by their vertues and powers which have created
both thee and me, and all the world. I conjure thee by these
holie names of God, Tetragrmnmaton Adonay Algraniay
Saday Sabaoth Planaboth Craton Neupinaton…

…etc. What happened if you forgot or mispronounced a name isn’t recorded.

But why did Kelley perform necromancy, if he did it at all?

The story goes that long before he met Dee he was arrested in Walton on Dale for conjuring a spirit, but a local squire named Langton managed to get him released. Given that so much of Kelley’s history is legend I’m unsure how seriously to take this, and even the legend doesn’t have much about Kelley’s’ reasoning.

So I’m just making something up. It’s historical fiction, remember?

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

biweekly links 6-7-2017

Witchcraft with a dash of art, and some things which may or may not be:

The hocus pocus of witchcraft: this post from the UK National Archives blog covers the basics but links over to their publication Accused: British Witches Throughout History, a nonfiction book about exactly what it says. Do check out their “We think you may also like” section if you’re into this sort of thing.

A radical new look at the greatest of Elizabethan artists: Two paintings have been newly confirmed as Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard‘s, based on the wood on which they were painted. They’re part of the Power and Portraiture: painting at the court of Elizabeth I exhibit that just opened at Waddesdon Manor. Looks like a good one to check out should you be in Buckinghamshire between now and October 29.

Portrait of Elizabethan man with beard and mustache, wearing a cap and ruff
Hilliard’s portrait of Elizabeth I’s alleged squeeze Robert Dudley, 1576. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The spy who hoodwinked the Nazis with sorcery: file under “interesting if true”. As opposed to “Operation” Cone of Power in which British witches actually tried to repel the Nazis, Operation Mistletoe was just propaganda. Allegedly orchestrated by spy and occultist Cecil Williams, this article suggests it’s uncertain whether this fake ritual happened at all. (Tangentially, a whip ’round Google for “Napoleonic magical ritual” nets nothing about the alleged witchcraft used to repel Napoleon mentioned in the article. Still, possible inspiration for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?)

biweekly links 5-17-2017

A 17th-century alleged witch inspired Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – not just “witches” in general but a specific one, who might have been Atwood’s ancestor.

Séance Through Science: Edison’s Ghost Machine – didn’t know this hard-headed inventor was into “that kind of thing”. Mind, it might have been a hoax. Still, something smells strange in Menlo Park.

Build The Spirit Radio That Creeped Out Tesla Himself – Tesla embraced the weird and now you can too!

A statue of Nikola Tesla in Silicon Valley radiates free Wi-Fi in memory of Tesla, who wanted free power for the world.
This is true – I checked it out. Photo via Tumblr.

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 6-15-2016

biweekly links 5-4-2016

mid-17th century leather shoe in poor condition
Shoe found in a cottage in Stockbridge, England. From the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project website.

biweekly links 4-6-2016

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: