Previous Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2016 Vol. 11.1
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The introduction to this special issue on witches’ imagined flight briefly traces the historiography of flight from classical antiquity into the early modern period. Witch-flight derives from a confluence of several traditions: literary depictions of metamorphosis, folkloric nightmares of child-stealing lamiae, and medieval beliefs about women who travel with Diana or similar pagan goddesses. The canon Episcopi condemned this last belief in the 10th century, but in the 15th century demonologists came to combine it with new stereotypes of a communal, diabolical witch-cult. In the early modern period, the flying witch became a “prerogative instance,” a borderline case through which to argue about the nature of reality in ways often entirely independent of the trials or confessions of accused witches.
Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola’s dialogue “Strix, sive de ludificatione daemonum” was published in 1523 at Bologna, to defend a witch-hunt that claimed ten victims on the author’s territory. For Gianfrancesco, the question of witches’ flight was tightly bound to the accusation that witches copulated with demons, based on Scholastic ideas of demons’ corporeality. Influenced by the value placed on witches’ “expert testimony” about human/demon interaction in Malleus maleficarum, Gianfrancesco’s dialogue dramatized the interrogation of a convicted witch by two humanists--a skeptic and a defender of witchcraft reality--under the supervision of the witch’s inquisitor. The witch herself provides crucial evidence to convince the skeptic that witches fly, copulate with demons, and commit other crimes in reality, not in dreams or hallucinations. Two decades earlier, Gianfrancesco had held the opposite conviction, stating in his “De imaginatione” that demons “ran riot” in witches’ corrupted imagination. This article traces the evolution of proofs given by the title character of Strix.
This article explores a historiographic irony: in the early modern period, those who doubted the reality of witches’ flight posited an ointment of soporific herbs (especially nightshades) to explain witches’ flight: with transvection thus explained away as the effect of phytochemicals, alleged witches must be innocent. In contrast, those who believed in the real crime of witchcraft insisted that the devil caused bodily flight, while the ointment (composed of the rendered fat of murdered babies), provided a concrete symbol of their depravity. In contemporary (20th-21st century) historiography, these positions are reversed. Most historians treat the ointment as an elite slander, while many of those who wish to assert the reality of the practice of witchcraft turn to the ointment as a scientifically explicable hallucinogenic “trip.” After demonstrating that we have no evidence that any accused witch ever used a hallucinogenic ointment, the article reflects on the continued deployment of this trope to defend reductionist models of history and of human agency.
Willem de Blécourt
After the fifteenth-century Council of Basel, the distribution of witch trials across Europe did not proceed evenly as a monolithic “cumulative concept.” Rather, the different concepts such as apostasy, sabbat, and flying each spread along their own routes and showed their own dynamics. The scarcity of flying witches in the sixteenth-century Netherlands is explained by the reluctance of intellectuals to accept new witchcraft theories as expressed in the wake of the Arras trials and in the Malleus maleficarum. In the two cases wherein flying witches did occur, in the 1560s in the towns of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the influence of visual media may be suspected.
Gerhild Scholz Williams
The process of imagining, seeing, and describing the encounter with the Other, in this case the witch, produces and transmits “facts” about magical geographies, those who inhabit them. Reading about magical propulsion in the witch’s flight transfers us into a space which, like the witches’ Sabbath, is marked by relentless motion. Like real world travel, the witches’ Sabbath presents the experience of strange and unfamiliar spaces and of the exotic, frightening, and fascinating Other. The rough and rugged landscapes of the French Labourd were believed to be so attractive to demons and witches that they decided, if not settle there, then regularly visit them. In the texts examined here, the real and imagined flight of the witch provides the reader with strange and frightening experiences as they and we contemplate the interaction of time and space and the relationships and communication between the spaces to which we accompany the witches.
The Author's Response to Last Issue's Forum on The Cooking of History
Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods by Crystal Addey (review) Robert M. Berchman
The Devil: A New Biography by Philip C. Almond (review) Peter Dendle
The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island by Nils Bubandt (review) Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme
Winter 2015 Vol. 10.2
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The rhetoric of secrecy is a recurring theme in the history of early modern science; but “secrets” and “secrecy” do not necessarily coincide. In the study of the dynamics of secrecy; the ability to withhold or share information in itself becomes a power enabling social control, regardless of the secreted content. This may be as much a matter of rhetoric as it is of a need to actually conceal information. Questions about the dynamics and rhetoric of secrecy are of special interest in the case of magic manuscripts. How much is this governed by a need to actually conceal content? This article argues that late medieval and early modern magic texts frequently included ciphers; however, they do not seem to be tools for hiding the message. Encrypting makes no content inaccessible. The function of ciphers was different: inviting engagement with the text, which can be described as a maneuver in the rhetoric of secrecy.
In the 1950s, the English occultist Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) began propagating a magico-religious tradition now known as Gardnerian Witchcraft whose adherents today number in the hundreds of thousands. A common element of Wiccan belief is an ethical commandment known as the “Wiccan Rede,” usually articulated in the form “an' it harm none, do what ye will.” This article traces the history of the Rede, beginning with an examination of Gardner's own early ethical statements. It traces Gardner's relationship with Doreen Valiente, his collaborator who came to proclaim the Rede at a prominent Pagan gathering in October 1964, noting the influence of Crowley's law of thelema, before moving on to discuss the wider reception of the Rede within the Wiccan movement and why practitioners of many rival traditions chose to reject it.
A manuscript in the British Library, Sloane 3853, is an Early Modern magical miscellany containing substantial extracts from a work of medieval ritual magic called the Liber iuratus Honorii or Sworn Book of Honorius. Sloane 3853 has generally been neglected as a source for the Swork Book, since other British Library manuscripts have better and more complete copies. This article argues that extracts from another text known to be included in the miscellany - the Ars notoria - in fact have the Sworn book as a proximate source. Focusing on the ways the Sworn Book is adapted and used, and especially on the vernacularized instructions given for the Sigil of God, the article goes on to trace how Sloane 3853 reflects the interests of its scribe, who focused on quick and straightforward spirit conjurations, ignoring the larger ritual context of the Sworn Book, in keeping with an interest in practical necromancy.
Forum: Nail Soup, or the Power of Collaboration: Reactions to Stephan Palmie
P. G. Maxwell-Stuart
Nathanael M. Vlachos
Prognostic Structure and the Use of Trumps in Tibetan Pebble Divination
Alexander K. Smith
École pratique des hautes etudes
This paper discusses the structure of prognoses offered in a form of pebble divination common to the Bön religion of Tibet. In addition to fieldwork conducted at Menri Monastery, Sirmaur District, H.P., India, the discussion will be drawn primarily from an alleged witness to an eleventh century “treasure” text, as well as two divination manuals written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively. Following a brief introduction to Tibetan divination practices and to the Bön religion, the method of casting will be discussed. It will be shown that Tibetan pebble divination uses a system of ‘trumps’ that significantly complicate the distillation of prognoses. In this respect, lithomantic techniques stand apart from other Tibetan divination practices, many of which use similar numeral systems, though lack a mediating structure of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ results
The “Eye of Abraham” Charm for Thieves
Versions in Middle and Early Modern English
Stephen B. Stallcup
We are very fortunate to be able to publish an article by Stephen Stallcup, whose death in 2009 at the age of thirty-eight cut short a promising career. Stallcup was trained at Southern Methodist University and Princeton, where he received his PhD in English in 2000. He subsequently taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he specialized in Middle English. He published on Anglo-Saxon and Early Modern topics as well, and the piece we offer here is not his only venture into magical areas. His last conference paper presented at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in May 2008, “Alma Chorus Domini: Divine Names in Religious and Magical Contexts,” was an interesting and learned exposition on the use of divine names in English liturgical and magical texts. Unfortunately he passed away before it could be published.
This article discusses and edits five versions of the “Eye of Abraham,” a charm against thieves common in Early Modern England, though in fact the procedure described in the charms is unique to neither England nor the sixteenth century. A similar charm is known to German folklorists as the Diebesauge; numerous versions are found in the folk- and magic-literature of Germany and Scandinavia, and the earliest known version occurs in an early fourth-century Greek papyrus. All the versions have in common a procedure that involves painting an eye on a wall, and striking or hitting it with a hammer or sharp object to cause the eye of the thief to water, or in the worst cases, to be put out. The five English versions edited here all show interesting differences in language and invocation.
Scottish Witchcraft in a Regional and Northern European Context
The Northern Highlands, 1563–1660
The article uses a multi-angle framework to investigate cases of witchcraft in Scotland’s northern shires between 1563 and 1660, comparing it with other mostly northern European regions. The comparatively low incidence of witchcraft accusations in these areas can be accounted for by an array of factors: a certain socio-cultural tolerance combined with the partial establishment of institutional structures and with the alternative form of judicial settlements and a greater concern for social cohesion in a society still mostly defined by kinship. The curtailment of witchcraft depended on this association of structures, actors, and on socio-economic, cultural, and religious factors acting on the localities modified by chronological and geographical variations.
Provincializing European Witchcraft
Thoughts on Peter Geschiere’s Latest Synthesis
Michael D. Bailey
Iowa State University
This review essay offers a reaction to Peter Geschiere’s Witchcraft, Intimacy and Trust. Geschiere’s book argues hat witchcraft is essentially about the paradox that the group of people with whom we are most intimate (neighbors and kin) has, by virtue of its intimacy, tremendous power and a potentially dangerous hold over us. The remedy for this paradox is trust; when trust fails, witchcraft appears. While Geschiere’s study is primarily grounded in African witchcraft, the present essay considers the possibilities these ideas may hold for the study of witchcraft phenomena on a global scale, both historically and sociology, in other parts of the world, and especially for those who focus on Western Europe.
Cases of Male Witchcraft in Old and New England, 1592–1692 by E.J. Kent (review)
Reviewed by Lara Apps
Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics by Marco Pasi (review)
Reviewed by Gordan Djurdjevic
Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions ed. by Paul Christopher Johnson (review)
Reviewed by Diana Espírito Santo
The True History of Merlin the Magician by Anne Lawrence-Mathers (review)
Reviewed by Peter H. Goodrich
Magic and Masculinity: Ritual Magic and Gender in the Early Modern Era by Frances Timbers (review)
Reviewed by Ofer Hadass
Magic and Religion in Medieval England by Catherine Rider (review)
Reviewed by Katherine Hindley
Divination and Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World ed. by Amar Annus (review)
Reviewed by Ann Jeffers
Invoking Angels: Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries ed. by Claire Fanger (review)
Reviewed by Gary K. Waite
Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia by Valerie Kivelson (review)
Reviewed by Michael Ostling
La Corriveau: de l’histoire à la légende by Catherine Ferland, Dave Corriveau (review)
Reviewed by Stephanie Pettigrew
Summer 2014 Vol. 9.1
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University of Jyväskylä, Finland
In the third book of his De vita libri tres, the De vita coelitus comparanda published in 1489, the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino explains the pictures that the ancient “astrologers and magicians” imprinted on their talismans. He distinguishes among three pictorial conventions: visual forms, imaginable forms, and characters. The passage explaining these forms serves as a prologue to chapter 18, which gives instructions for fabricating talismans and speculates on the efficacy of magical images. This article examines Ficino’s distinctions as descending from the tradition of learned image magic, concentrating on certain iconographical and theoretical questions: What – and what kinds of – pictures did Ficino mean and on what exemplars did he base his distinction of three classes?
Institut für Mittelalterforschung, ÖAW
This article examines an odd story told in Andreas Agnellus' Deeds of the Bishops of Ravenna about a certain Abbot John. The story involves a night journey to Ravenna: the vehicle is a ship drawn in the sand, and there is a rapid passage through a storm in the company of three mysterious men. Ultimately John lands not in a harbor but on the roof of his monastery. A variety of different narrative analagues are adduced to explore the origins of these disparate narrative elements and show how they were reshaped into a miraculous story by Agnellus.
Tantra is commonly referred to as “esoteric” Buddhism, yet it has become the dominant form of popular practice in Tibetan and other Himalayan cultures. In an effort to account for the popular dimension of this elite domain of practices, this article explores tantra’s transformations from a body of esoteric magico-religio-shamanic rituals in first-millennium India to a Tibetan patchwork cultural landscape in which genuinely secret practices share religious space with “open secrets” accessible to the lay public. This article has two arcs, the first examining magico-shamanic roots of tantric practices, and the second tracing the course of the new tradition’s “domestication” or “institutionalization” into more traditional Buddhism. The Tibetan embrace of tantra offers many opportunities for exploration of tensions between the popular appeal of “esoteric” traditions and the elite nature of their practice.
Dustin N. Atlas
State University of New York College at Old Westbury
Sweet Briar College
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Queensland
Brian A. Pavlac
King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA
Upper Iowa University
Hebrew University of Jerusalem