Current Issue Abstracts
Volume 17, Number 2, Summer 2022
Forum on Vexed Issues
At the beginning of his encyclopaedic Compendium Maleficarum, Francesco Maria Guazzo outlined three kinds of magic. Natural magic consists in "a more exact knowledge of the secrets of Nature" and of the ability, by skilfully harnessing this knowledge, to "effect marvels which to the ignorant seem to be miracles and illusions." Mathematical magic makes use of the principles of "Geometry, Arithmetic, and Astronomy" to a similar purpose; Guazzo gives the example of Archimedes's fabled defence of Syracuse by means of carefully placed mirrors that, concentrating the sun's light, set the invading Roman galleys aflame. Finally, prestidigital magic produces illusory wonders through sleight of hand, misdirection, acrobatic skill.1
This essay reflects on two cases of evangelical publicity; that is, on situations where an evangelical cultural form operates in spaces that are open to diverse audiences and not wholly or strictly definable as religious. The first was a traveling science-themed ministry active between the 1930s and 1990s. The second is a biblically-themed museum that opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017. I take up these two cases in this forum because together they offer a valuable reflection on the entanglement of magic, technology, spectacle, and religious publicity. Both examples are defined by their use of sensory play through technology in order to arrest the attention of audiences. They surprise, confound, disorient, and otherwise upend sensory expectation in service of broader evangelical ambitions.
Triangulating Technology and Magic through Artistic Research
Seth Riskin, Graham M. Jones
Scholars have amply demonstrated that, far from being opposed, magic and technology are often, perhaps always, complementary: technology advances not by overcoming magic, but by incorporating and amplifying it;1magic persists not in spite of technological advances, but precisely because such advances inspire and energize it.2 All of this might rightly lead to questioning whether the conceptual distinctions sometimes drawn between magic and technology (as noted in Ostling's introduction, 170) are well founded, but we take a different approach.
The problem, this time, was a stone (depicted in Figure 1). A worn, enchanted relic, used for scrying and prophecy. Or alternately a piece of technology, programmed to decode an ancient tongue. Or, perhaps, a religious object, the option which was in some ways the most disturbing possibility of them all.
What is a "technology"? In the three preceding pieces the term is treated as effectively self-evident. The contributors do not pause to define it, but in essence treat it, when understood as a process, as meaning "advanced technology," or as engineering or applied science; when understood as an object, the contributors treat "technology" as equivalent to a piece of machinery. Magic remains largely undefined as well, but the sense is equally clear: magic, understood as a process, is a kind of experience of an alternate reality, more vivid than everyday reality and perhaps escaping normative assumptions about perception.
Many early modern sources from Eastern Germany and the Baltic mention a household spirit in the shape of a flying snake. This so called dragon allegedly brought money and produce to its owner. Everything it brought it stole from somebody else. This household dragon appears in early ethnological literature, in scientific treatises and in witch trials. Early modern authors agreed that the household dragon was a demon in the shape of a snake-like monster. Even scientists who suggested alternative explanations for alleged dragon sightings failed to reject the demonological explanation outright. Alleged contact with such a dragon provoked a number of witch trials. Persons accused of being in contact with a household dragon were profit-oriented social climbers who had accumulated wealth quickly. Their neighbors maintained that they had become rich simply because the dragon had provided them with money and produce. Folk tales collected in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries presented essentially the same motifs. In both, early modern sources and modern folk tales, dragon narratives were an extremely aggressive form of social criticism that condemned profit-oriented economic behavior.
In the Hebrew Bible we find a diatribe against false prophetesses in Ezekiel 13:17–23. The prophet's verbal attack on these women is preserved in a highly complex text, riddled with text-critical issues and hapax legomena. Ezekiel accuses them of entrapping souls and manipulating life and death. Many scholars have interpreted this obscure text as a reference to witchcraft; these women are understood by Ezekiel to be engaged in harmful magic. However, it has also been argued that the prophet is delivering a polemic against necromancy or certain midwifery rituals. Although the precise nature of the women's activities remains shrouded in mystery, their description contains elements that are reminiscent of the learned concept of witchcraft as it circulated throughout Europe in the early modern period. Nevertheless, despite the demonologies being full of scriptural references, Ezekiel 13:17–23 is noticeably absent. This article compares the depiction of these women and their activities with the portrayal of the witch and her maleficiumin the early modern witchcraft debate. It further explains why the demonologists overlooked this passage by examining its reception history from the period of the early church onward.
The demonic possession of Nottingham man John Fox and his dispossession by Puritan minister Richard Rothwell (c. 1563-1627) remains as one of the few possession cases in early modern England not to be the subject of any serious scholarly inquiry. These events are solely covered in The Life of Master Richard Rothwel, a brief biographical work written by his pupil Stanley Gower (c. 1600-1660) that appears in certain editions of Samuel Clarke's prolific Lives series. As depicted in this work of Godly biography, Rothwell's life is characterized by perpetual conflict with demonic temptation, and it is this experience that establishes his exceptional credentials as a spiritual healer. Remarkably, Rothwell underwent a demonic possession prior to his exorcism of John Fox and this notion of a demoniac turned exorcist is unparalleled in the English context. This article hence examines the textual construction of Rothwell's lifelong conflict with temptation and, for the first time in the scholarship, brings to light his dispossession of John Fox. Importantly, Rothwell's appearance in Clarke's Lives series indicates that dispossession by prayer and fasting remained a fundamental spiritual practice for many English Protestants (especially Puritans) following the John Darrell Exorcism Controversy and the subsequent enactment of Canon 72 of the Church in England (1604). Through situating Rothwell's perpetual battle with temptation and his dispossession of Fox within the broader historical context, this article justifies his inclusion alongside many of the other great Puritan ministers and exorcists of this period.
Liber Israfel, an invocation of the Egyptian god Tahuti or Thoth, is arguably a key text in Aleister Crowley's literary corpus. Not only does it form the basis of a complete theory of magical invocation in his seminal Magick in Theory and Practice, but Crowley made extensive use of it in his personal magical work. That a precursor of Liber Israfel played a role in the events leading up to the reception of The Book of the Law, the founding text of Crowley's religio-magical philosophy of Thelema, only adds to its significance. However, Liber Israfel has thus far received little by way of scholarly attention. And whilst it is widely recognized that Liber Israfel is highly indebted to a ritual of evocation composed by Crowley's magical mentor, Allan Bennett, a comprehensive analysis of the iterative creative processes to which it owes its composition is lacking. Such analysis can arguably tell us much about how modern ritual magic texts are constructed and therefore give us a glimpse into how key ideas in the history of modern ritual magic originate and develop. Additionally, we can gain valuable insights into the key role this particular text plays in the development of Aleister Crowley's religio-magical system of Thelema.
Faces of Proteus: History of Modern Paganism as a Religious Identity by Dmitry Galtsin (review)
Theoretical and Empirical Investigations of Divination and Magic: Manipulating the Divine ed. by Jesper Sørensen and Anders Klostergaard Petersen (review)
Vanessa Da Silva Baptista
The Voices of Women in Witchcraft Trials: Northern Europe by Liv Helene Willumsen (review)
The Shaman's Wages: Trading in Ritual on Cheju Island by Kyoim Yun (review)
Maria Hasfeldt Long
Philosophising the Occult: Avicennan Psychology and 'The Hidden Secret' of Fakhr Al-Dīn al-Rāzī by Michael-Sebastian Noble (review)
Bedlam in the New World: A Mexican Madhouse in the Age of Enlightenment by Christina Ramos (review)
Carole A. Myscofski
Occult Roots of Religious Studies. On the Influence of Non-Hegemonic Currents on Academia around 1900 ed. by Yves Mühlematter and Helmut Zander (review)
The Scent of Ancient Magic by Britta K. Ager (review)
The End(s) of Time(s): Apocalypticism, Messianism, and Utopianism through the Ages ed. by Hans-Christian Lehner (review)
The Reputation of Edward II, 1305–1697: A Literary Transformation of History by Kit Heyem (review)