Current Issue Abstracts

Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 2020



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Magic Language: The Transmission of an Idea over Geographical Distance and Linguistic Barriers
Arne Kruse, Liv Helene Willumsen

This article demonstrates how traces of language in historical sources relates to ideas transferred across linguistic and national borders. Sources for this study are court hearings from the intense persecutions of witches that took place in Scotland and in Finnmark in northern Norway in the 1590s and 1620s respectively. It is argued that the Scotsman John Cunningham, who became District Governor in Finnmark in 1619, brought the new doctrine of demonology with him from Scotland and applied it locally. Concepts in cognitive linguistics are instrumental in showing that certain demonological notions are present in the court hearings from both Scotland and Finnmark. In Finnmark, formulas and phrases point to one particular individual's background in Scotland, where he will have learnt how witches should be dealt with in accordance with the doctrine of demonology.


Magic as Poetry, Poetry as Magic: A Fragment of Arabic Spells
Emily Selove

This article provides an edition and translation of Landberg 35a, an Arabic manuscript fragment containing a collection of spells, held in Yale University's Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. These spells can also be found circulating in Arabic-language blogs and websites dedicated to the occult, and include love spells either addressing the full moon or using sand and incense, and methods of contacting a jar-dwelling spirit and a king of the jinn. Relying on Jonathan Culler's theory of apostrophe in poetry, this essay also explores the reasons that references to magic and to poetry in certain situations tend to cause embarrassment. This analysis results in a blurring of the definitions of modern and medieval as well as of poetry and magic, and highlights the power of language to affect the speaker, the listener, and the world.


A New English Translation of Bo Almqvist's "Concerning the Icelandic Spell–Poets"
Eirik Westcoat, Teresa Dröfn Njarđvík

Bo Almqvist (1931–2013) was a Swedish folklorist who published a prodigious body of work covering both Celtic and Scandinavian folklore. This contribution offers the first translation into English of his early article, published in 1961, "Um ákvæðaskáld" or "Concerning the Icelandic Spell-poets." Found in sixteenth- to twentieth-century Icelandic folktales, the "spell-poet" (ákvæðaskáld) or "power-poet" (kraftaskáld) was reputed to perform magic by means of extemporaneous poetic verses uttered in a particular state of mind. Almqvist seems to have planned to make kraftaskáld the topic of his doctoral dissertation, but his focus shifted to medieval níð ("insult poetry") which he saw as one of the roots of the later kraftaskáld phenomenon. His dissertation, together with this article, still remain important resources for the study of these historic cultural traditions.


A Masonic Hymn to the Sun
Graham John Wheeler

This article publishes for the first time a ritual text composed by the nineteenth-century Freemason and occultist Francis George Irwin. The text is a devotional prose-poem entitled "Hymn to the sun" which appears in a book of Masonic ceremonies that Irwin produced in 1889. The Hymn provides some interesting and important insights into two issues in the study of Victorian esotericism: first, the means by which occult rituals of the era were composed; and second, the way in which individuals could make the transition from Christianity to Neo-Paganism by way of high-degree Freemasonry.


The Secrets of the Upper and the Lower World: A Response to Matthew Melvin-Koushki's "Review Essay: Magic in Islam between Religion and Science"
Sebastian Günther, Dorothee Pielow

These days it is rare that a German publication on a specific research topic in the humanities makes its way into the review section of an English language journal. The authors of such a book may consider themselves all the more fortunate upon learning that their findings are the subject of an assessment of both substantial length and copious detail. Matthew Melvin-Koushki's thirty-three page review essay constitutes such an exceptional case, as it appraises our collected studies volume, Die Geheimnisse der oberen und der unteren Welt: Magie im Islam zwischen Glaube und Wissenschaft (The Secrets of the Upper and the Lower World: Magic in Islam between Belief and Science).1 In the case of Melvin-Koushki's review, however, the authors and editors of the collected studies he assesses may not consider themselves quite so fortunate, in spite of the appreciative beginning and conclusion of this essay.


Magic in Islam between Protestantism and Demonology: A Response to Günther and Pielow's Response
Matthew Melvin-Koushki

The editors of Secrets believe me, a non-germanophone scholar, to have written a Streitschrift in the high German style: long on spleen and short on sense. To be sure, while I was full of praise for the many excellent chapters it comprises, I was equally full of dismay at the recrudescence of tired orientalist and even colonialist tropes in its less excellent chapters; and the introduction, while indeed very long, is also very disappointing. But they dismiss all of my critiques out of hand as mere misreadings. And yet their response only confirms my original diagnosis, and throws the volume's methodological, theoretical, and philological missteps into high relief.


Divining the Woman of Endor: African Culture, Postcolonial Hermeneutics, and the Politics of Biblical Translation by J. Kabamba Kiboko (review)
Alinda Damsma

Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic ed. by David Frankfurter (review)
Michael D. Bailey

The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North by Ármann Jakobsson (review)
Timothy Grieve-Carlson

An Intimate Rebuke: Female Genital Power in Ritual and Politics in West Africa by Laura S. Grillo (review)
Amanda Kaplan

Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women by Silvia Federici (review)
Nat Mengist

The Invention of Satanism by Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper AA. Petersen (review)
Stanislav Panin

Thunder Shaman: Making History with Mapuche Spirits in Chile and Patagonia by Ana Mariella Bacigalupo (review)
Stefan Ray Sanchez

Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples by Erica Lagalisse (review)
Sam Stoeltje

'Charms', Liturgies, and Secret Rites in Early Medieval England by Ciaran Arthur (review)
Ilona Tuomi

Anna Zieglerin and the Lion's Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany by Tara Nummedal (review)
Arina Zaytseva