Previous Issue Article Abstracts
Volume 15, Number 2, Summer 2020
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Witchcraft and Slavery in Cartagena de Indias
Gunnar W. Knutsen
The witchcraft trials in the Spanish Inquisition's tribunal in Cartagena de Indias had direct links to the trials in Northern Spain. These trials started just after the trials in the Basque country in 1610-14, and show the adoption of a newly coined word for the witches' sabbath not in evidence outside of the Basque country. Once transported to the Americas, the witches' sabbath was reshaped to reflect the fears of the ruling class in colonial slave society. The cannibalistic night flying witch was no longer an old infertile woman; now she was a slave organised in a military fashion, reflecting the armies of runaway male slaves that had established their own societies in the American hinterland. The tribunal in Cartagena de India continued to pass death sentences for diabolical witchcraft in the 1630s despite instructions issued against this in 1614. Only the firm hand of the central council in Madrid stopped these from being carried out, but it could not prevent large numbers of cases from being tried.
In 1518 Luther published a set of sermons on the Ten Commandments, within which he illustrated transgressions of the First Commandment by lengthy, detailed descriptions of popular superstitions, magic, and witchcraft. This early work offers the strongest evidence of Luther's acceptance of the fifteenth-century conception of diabolical witchcraft, although Luther expressed doubts about both night flight and the sabbat. This paper argues that the work must be seen in its proper light as a sermon to his congregation, following a medieval tradition of catechetical works on the Decalogue. Within this tradition the sermons take a providentialist line, based on nominalist theology, according to which all suffering comes through the will of God alone. Yet Luther's sermons departed from nominalist soteriology; superstition and magic are thus for him indications of our inescapable failure to trust in God's wisdom and mercy.
This article examines a group of objects known as "witch-bottles"–stoneware jugs that were filled with ingredients, heated and often concealed as a means of curing bewitchment in early modern England. These bottles and their associated practice have played a central role in archaeologies of ritual, folklore and magic, but have not been seriously considered as a facet of medicine. This paper provides a thorough examination of the workings of the cure, the objects' social and spatial geographies, and a material and conceptual analysis of the bottles and their associated texts. Rather than seeking to displace the current narrative surrounding "witch-bottles" entirely, this paper addresses issues regarding the interpretation of these magical objects, and situates them within the history of healing.
Considering the cases and life histories of three female spirit mediums who are adherents of the Mother Goddess religion in Viet Nam, this ethnographic study of Vietnamese spirit possession contributes to and clarifies longstanding debates regarding the distinction between mediums and shamans. Analyzing their life stories and drawing on theories of agency, this paper focuses on the ways in which female spirit mediums use their skills and capacities to practice the Mother Goddess religion, interpret their faith, and experience life and work as children of the Mother Goddesses. These three women have overcome the barriers of traditional society and have successfully found ways to assert themselves. Their agency, I argue, is not limited to the ritual space but is also evident in their active roles in their communities and society.
Making Magic in Elizabethan England: Two Early Modern Vernacular Books of Magic ed. by Frank Klaassen (review)
László Sándor Chardonnens
The Long Life of Magical Objects: A Study in the Solomonic Tradition by Allegra Iafrate (review)
Das Losbuch. Manuskriptologie einer Textsorte des 14. bis 16. Jahrhunderts by Marco Heiles (review)
Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period ed. by Michelle D. Brock, Richard Raiswell, David R. Winter (review)
Picatrix: A Medieval Treatise on Astral Magic by Dan Attrell, David Porreca (review)
Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits: 'Small Gods' at the Margins of Christendom ed. by Michael Ostling (review)
Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes by Philip Freeman (review)
Sharon Paice Macleod
Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-Century Culture by Per Faxneld (review)
Welsh Witches: Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic from 16th and 17th Century Wales by Richard Suggett (review)
Drawing Down the Moon: Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III (review)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
An Intimate Rebuke: Female Genital Power in Ritual and Politics in West Africa by Laura S. Grillo (review)
Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women by Silvia Federici (review)
The Invention of Satanism by Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper AA. Petersen (review)
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)
'Charms', Liturgies, and Secret Rites in Early Medieval England by Ciaran Arthur (review)
Anna Zieglerin and the Lion's Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany by Tara Nummedal (review)
Volume 14, Number 3, Winter 2019
Special Volume on Narrating Witchcraft: Agency, Discourse, and Power
3. Early Modern to Present Day
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Introduction to This Issue: Early Modern to Present Day
Esther Eidinow, Richard Gordon
The third and final issue of this special volume of the journal takes us to the early modern and modern worlds, continuing to underscore the centrality of narrativity to the ontology of sorcery and witchcraft with articles on Early Modern England and Germany by Marion Gibson and Alison Rowlands, and contemporary Cameroon and Israel by Peter Geschiere and Yuval Harari. An Afterword by Ronald Hutton reflects on varied issues raised by contributors.
This article focuses on news pamphlets about witchcraft from Elizabethan and Jacobean London. In these pamphlets, witchcraft is treated differently from other crimes in that it seems to have been thought appropriate to provide verbatim evidence of this crime to its readership outside the courtroom. In this construction of the crime, the words of the accusers and accused matter in a particular, exciting way that is emphasized as a marketing strategy. This paper, however, argue that this claim to verbatim status and documentary reliability is in essence illusory; it creates an impression of an overly neat and definitive version of witchcraft events, one that can be an impediment to understanding their complexity.
This article focuses on the trial of Margaretha Horn, a sixty-two year old peasant woman arrested for witchcraft in 1652 in the German region of Franconia. At the heart of the trial lay two competing narratives about Margaretha's identity: one begun by her neightbor, Leonhard Gackstatt about Margaretha being a harming witch; the other, maintained by Margaretha, that she was not. I show how Margaretha used a range of cultural resources and narrative strategies to define herself as not a witch. I also argue that we can interpret her testimony as doing memory work relating to her experience of the Thirty Years War, and as an example of early modern self-fashioning.
This article compares two narratives about djambe (witchcraft, sorcellerie) current among the Maka in the forest area of Cameroon. One is an older story-a kind of foundational myth-of how djambe came to live among the people. The second is a more recent story about a form of witchcraft monopolized by the new rich who turn their victims into zombies to make them work on "invisible plantations." Both stories seem to highlight an ahistorical reality, but on closer inspection both express a reflection on changes. Through these stories it becomes clear that djambe is not a timeless tradition but a flexible and often internally inconsistent set of elements. This flexibility helps explain the ease with which local ideas about occult aggression can graft themselves onto historical changes.
The article examines the narratives surrounding a magic plate that was found in the new cemetery of Yeruḥam, a small town in the northern Negev. I trace the rashomon surrounding the plate and its context in the web of Yeruḥam's rumors and political activity. My main aim is to bring out the complexity of such a "sorcery event," the roles of rumor, inference, speculation, rivalries, and enmities in the various constructions of what took place, and above all, the role of narrative in stabilizing and legitimizing the different points of view.
Thresholds of Saliency: Reactions to Jon Bialecki, A Diagram for Fire: Miracle and Variations in a Charismatic Movement. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2017
Surprises and Possibilities in A Diagram for Fire
Narrative Strategies in the Vineyard and La Viña: A Response to Jon Bialecki's Diagram for Fire
Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh
Theoretical Rubber, Empirical Pavement
Graham M. Jones
Conditions and Possibilities
Arts of Being Yorùbá: Divination, Allegory, Tragedy, Proverb, Panegyric by Adélékè Adéèkó (review)
The Winnowing of White Witchcraft by Edward Poeton (review)
Magic's Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy by Graham M. Jones (review)
Holy Monsters, Sacred Grotesques: Monstrosity and Religion in Europe and the United States by Michael E. Heyes (review)
Sources of Evil: Studies in Mesopotamian Exorcistic Lore ed. by Greta van Buylaere et al. (review)
Legible Religion: Books, Gods, and Rituals in Roman Culture by Duncan macrae (review)
The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology by Jonathan A. Stapley (review)
Christopher Carroll Smith
Volume 14, Number 1, Spring 2019
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Introduction to the Special Volume
Narrating Witchcraft: Agency, Discourse, and Power
Esther Eidinow, Richard Gordon
This collection of thirteen essays—three issues of a special volume of this journal—explores "witchcraft narratives" over time, place, and culture. Most of the contributions are based on papers delivered at a conference entitled "Narrating Witchcraft: Agency, Discourse and Power," held at the University of Erfurt at the end of June 2016, which took up the theoretical challenge of the Lived Ancient Religion project (LAR). This five-year research project, which ran from 2012–17 and which provided funding for the conference, was directed by Professor Jörg Rüpke of the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt, Germany, and focused on the individual, situational, and larger global trajectories of the pluralistic religions of antiquity. This special volume, Narrating Witchcraft, takes a similarly multi-dimensional approach: scholars of different disciplines, including ancient, early modern and modern history, anthropology, and gender studies, introduced a broad variety of case studies. In acknowledgement of the theme of lived ancient religion, most of the contributions to this special volume—specifically, the articles that appear in the first two issues and that set up the thematic content—focus on malign magic as perceived and practiced in the "Ancient Mediterranean," which includes the Ancient Near East and connected areas over a time span of some thirty-five hundred years.
Introduction to this Issue
Esther Eidinow, Richard Gordon
Our first issue explores primary materials from some of the earliest cultures to produce narrative evidence for notions of witchcraft. Svenja Nagel explores ancient Egyptian texts that date from c. 2700 BCE until c. 500 CE (Old Kingdom up to Late Antiquity), including narrative literature, religious texts (ritual manuscripts and magical spells), and historical and documentary texts recording real-life cases of the magical activities that appear in the first two types of text. Greta Van Buylaere interrogates cuneiform documents from ancient Mesopotamia—Sumer and Akkad, and later Babylonia and Assyria—from the second half of the third millennium BCE until the first century CE. Finally, Esther Eidinow analyzes a range of evidence for ritual practices, and the attitudes toward them, from ancient Greek culture in the Classical period (largely from the fifth to fourth century BCE), including magical texts, law court speeches, and medical treatises.
This literary piece testifies to a typical imperial-period concept of a "witch" who is practicing necromancy with "bizarre" rituals, and since her actions are deemed impious and abominable, is shortly thereafter punished by violent death. Her actions are at the same time characterized as "common practice among the women of Egypt," and thus as typical of indigenous Egyptian female practice. However, since this is a work of relatively late date from the Greco-Roman literary tradition, does it represent just an outsider view of native Egyptian practice; or does it reflect any aspect of reality in ancient Egypt, perhaps including a continuity of traditions about "witches" reaching into the Greco-Roman period? What is its relationship to comparable Egyptian narratives about practitioners of magical rituals? Are they, for instance, also characterized as impious and female?
In this article, I will examine the processes whereby women, particularly of a certain social and religious status, were marginalized and, in some cases, also demonized in second to first millennium BCE Mesopotamia. I will focus on the decline in power and legitimacy experienced by female professionals, including consecrated women such as the nadītu and qadištu, and instigated by male scholars. A certain mystery must have shrouded these women's activities in the eyes of men. Their rites and esoteric knowledge, steeped in magic, however, were not written down, leaving us with limited information about these women's expertise—limited and biased, as the male scholars were free to denigrate their female competitors, bringing them down to the level of witches. Equating these once highly respected and exclusively female professionals with witches served both to dehumanize and demonize them. They retained a degree of power and operated within a sphere of agency that could not be effectively usurped by men. It is perhaps not surprising, under these circumstances, that exorcists and qadištus did sometimes cooperate.
This essay begins with this Aesopic fable, because I want to argue that the gunê magos it depicts belongs to the (semantic) family of "the witch." This does not mean that I regard this term as indicating, straightforwardly, a universal category. But the conference that generated this essay was based on the assumption of the diachronic and cross-cultural conceptual power of witchcraft beliefs and practices, which encompass both local and global meanings and whose historical trajectory extends back to ancient Mediterranean cultures. The breadth of our coverage in both the conference and volume is not meant to suggest that a direct resemblance can be assumed between one set of phenomena and another across distances of time, place, and culture; nor do we intend to claim that this etic term "witch" can simply encompass or displace the emic understandings of the subjects of analysis.
In his book Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust, the social anthropologist Peter Geschiere—who has worked among the Maka people of southwest Cameroon since the early 1970s—relates the story of Jean Eba. Eba was a successful fonctionnaire—a civil servant and political operative—who in the late 1960s returned to his village: "Eba felt ill, his complaints were quite mysterious (general fatigue), and no doctor succeeded in curing him. So people soon started whispering about witchcraft. Apparently Eba himself shared this view, despite his Western education: after some hesitation he told me that he had begun to frequent one nganga (healer) after another. Finally a nganga from Djem country (some sixty miles away) succeeded in helping him, but insisted that he had to leave the village and return to one of the urban centers of the East."1 Local people interpreted this as an "attack from inside the house" as a result of jealousy from relatives he had not sufficiently helped, although different suspects and specific motives were identified.
The Lovecraftian Poe: Essays on Influence, Reception, Interpretation and Transformation ed. by Sean Moreland (review)
Reviewed by Kyle Brett
The Salem Belle: A Tale of 1692 by Ebenezer Wheelwright (review)
Ezili's Mirrors: Imagining Black Queer Genders by Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley (review)
European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader ed. by Martha Rampton (review)
Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov ed. by Gennady Barabtarlo (review)
War Magic: Religion, Sorcery, and Performance ed. by Douglas S. Farrer (review)
Bradley M. Johnson
Theatre, Magic and Philosophy: William Shakespeare, John Dee and the Italian Legacy by Gabriela Dragnea Horvath (review)
The Alchemy of Empire: Abject Materials and the Technologies of Colonialism by Rajani Sudan (review)
Laura R. Kremmel
Being Bewitched: A True Tale of Madness, Witchcraft, and Property Development Gone Wrong by Kirsten C. Uszkalo (review)
Brian P. Levack
Fairy Tale: A Very Short Introduction by Marina Warner (review)
Christina A. Jones
Volume 13, Number 3, Winter 2018
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Volume 12, Number 3, Winter 2017
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pp. 279 - 313
This paper surveys nineteen lead curse tablets from the sanctuary of Magna Mater and Isis in Mainz, Germany. Written in Latin, these tablets seek the divine help of Magna Mater and other deities in rectifying perceived injustices. When theorizing about cursing practices at the site, I argue that we need to look to the in situ context of the curse tablets and consider the other ritual deposits made at the sanctuary. The co-presence of votary items alongside curse tablets can aid our understanding of how the curse authors at Mainz viewed their practice, and in fact votive cult provides a compelling framework for understanding cursing at Mainz. The connection between the temple locus and cursing is illustrated by the uniformity of cursing rituals, the thematic content of the petitioners' requests, and the sites of tablet deposition. Thus, we need to reconsider the idea of cursing as a deviant religious practice and instead recognize all the ways that it fell within normative religious habits in Roman antiquity.
Cursus: An Early Thirteenth-Century Source for Nocturnal Flights and Ointments in the Work of Roland of Cremona
pp. 314 - 330
This article considers a demonological tractate authored in the 1230s by Roland of Cremona, a learned physician who became the first Dominican master of theology in Paris. The core of the article is an analysis of the interaction of the popular and the learned through his original, hitherto overlooked account of a popular practice he names cursus, a nightly orgiastic flight induced by smearing a certain ointment. Antedating by two hundred years the first known sources to mention flying ointments, and independent of earlier sources about the nightly ladies, I delineate its importance to the study of the medieval origins of the witches' sabbat.
What Père Lafitau Learned from the American Diviner
pp. 331 - 361
This paper uses the writings of the Jesuit Joseph-Francois Lafitau (1681-1746) to draw attention to the role that missionary encounters played in the shaping of early Enlightenment attitudes toward magic. After spending five years among the Iroquois converts of the Sault Saint-Louis mission near Montreal, Lafitau developed important insights into the shamanic practices of the New World. Buried in his Moeurs des sauvages comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps (1724) these insights have yet to be read through the history of magic. They reveal how ceremonies witnessed in America and interpreted as curious remnants of Neoplatonic theurgy served Christian apologetics in eighteenth-century France. Lafitau's case suggests that, while the practice of magic was "waning" in some European circles, concerns about its existence and efficacy persisted both as a reality in distant lands and as an object of antiquarian inquiry
Building, Burning, and Rebuilding Bridges Anthropological and Historical Approaches to Witchcraft in Tanzania and Beyond
pp. 362 - 401
After a first, short-lived attempt in the 1970s, the cooperation of historical and anthropological approaches to witchcraft has recently experienced a renaissance. This article discusses both cross-fertilizations and persistent gaps in the interdisciplinary exchanges, arguing that the perception of witchcraft-related phenomena outside of Europe continues to suffer from insufficient historicization, while many historians of early modern Europe cling to a European Sonderweg which renders witchcraft in early modern as Europe unique and, ultimately, incomparable. Issues of interdisciplinary cooperation are then discussed using Tanzania as a case study.
pp. 402 - 404
Michelle D. Brock
Shi'ism in South East Asia: 'Alid Piety and Sectarian Constructions ed. by Chiara Formichi and R. Michael Feener (review)
pp. 404 - 406
Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522): A Theological Biography by Franz Posset (review)
pp. 406 - 410
The Virtue of Sympathy: Magic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England by Seth Lobis (review)
pp. 410 - 412
Ryan J. Stark
Cas Gan Gythraul: Demonology, Witchcraft, and Popular Magic in Eighteenth-Century Wales ed. by Lisa Tallis (review)
pp. 412 - 414
Agents of Witchcraft in Early Modern Italy and Denmark by Louise Nyholm Kallestrup (review)
pp. 414 - 416
Gerhild Scholz Williams
Magic in Islam by Michael Muhammad Knight (review)
pp. 416 - 419
Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible by Richard Baxstrom and Todd Meyers (review)
pp. 419 - 421
Witchcraft, Witch-Hunting, and Politics in Early Modern England by Peter Elmer (review)
pp. 421 - 424
E. J. Kent
Beliefs and Rituals in Archaic Eastern North America: An Interpretive Guide by Cheryl Claassen (review)
pp. 424 - 428
Winter 2016 Vol. 11.2
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In pursuit of a cultural history of manhood and patriarchal power in early modern English witchcraft-possession, this article examines the case against the Samuel family in Warboys, England, from 1589 to 1593. After Robert Throckmorton’s five daughters began to act as if they were possessed, they named Alice Samuel, her husband John, and their daughter Agnes as witches. The influential published narrative of the case, entitled The Witches of Warboys (1593), reveals how patriarchal claims to legitimate authority operated through the prosecution of witches of both sexes. Compared to his wife and daughter, John Samuel was able to access power differently in the crucial settings where the drama unfolded, and he and Throckmorton found themselves locked in struggles over control of the proceedings. The Witches of Warboys case modeled a respectable family’s victory against wickedness, but at its center the implicit question of patriarchy’s vulnerability in the context of witchcraft-possession remained unresolved. This article argues that a study of early modern manhood requires mindfulness of the contingent status of men and women, and that gender played a crucial role in the attempts of suspected witches of both sexes to navigate the charges against them.
Supernatural and fantastic works hold a significant place in Francisco Goya’s oeuvre, yet their meaning is often perplexing on both iconographic and symbolic levels. Particularly enigmatic is Flying Witches (Museo del Prado), one of Goya’s six witchcraft paintings purchased in 1798 by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. An examination of the hitherto misconstrued bodily configuration of the witches’ victim reveals the supernatural phenomenon described in the scene. Although the victim’s convulsive body invokes the pathos formula of the famous Laocoön statue group, it registers demonic possession, not generic suffering. That Goya conceived Flying Witches in its entirety as a scene of possession is supported by its similarities with two images: an illustration in Laurent Bordelon’s History of the Ridiculous Extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle and Raphael’s Transfiguration. As an expression of Enlightenment ideas, Flying Witches cues scepticism towards the supernatural and censures the Inquisition as an archaic institution.
This article examines the presence and importance of Goddess Spirituality and Dianic Witchcraft at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp during the first decade or so of its existence. The influence of radical and cultural feminisms on the women who lived at the peace camp and assembled there for large scale anti-nuke demonstrations has been explored by many researchers in the past, but the issue of spirituality – and particularly Goddess Spirituality and feminist/Dianic Witchcraft – at the camp has yet to receive adequate scholarly attention. This article uses archival records, memoires and oral histories in order to shed some light on this under-studied phenomenon, and in addition attempts to contextualize the camp as an arena for exchanges of views and knowledge between non-feminist British Wiccans and American-influenced radical feminists and Goddess women.
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, FinlandIn 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? Nightfall on Ravenna: Storms and Narrativity in the Work of Andreas AgnellusFrancesco Borri
Institut für Mittelalterforschung, ÖAWThis 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. Shaman, Lama, Buddha: “Occult Techniques” and the Popularization of Tantric Ritual in TibetClaire Villarreal
Rice UniversityTantra 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. Jewish Mysticism and Magic: An Anthropological Perspective by Maureen Bloom (review)Dustin N. Atlas
Rice University Kulturgeschichte der Mittelalterlichen Wahrsagerei by Christa Agnest Tuczay (review)Edward Bever
State University of New York College at Old Westbury Christ Transformed into a Virgin Woman. Lucia Brocadelli, Heinrich Institoris, and the Defense of Faith by Tamar Herzig (review)Fabrizio Conti
Rome Haunted Visions: Spiritualism and American Art by Charles Colbert (review)Cathy Gutierrez
Sweet Briar College Goddesses, Mages, and Wise Women: The Female Pastoral Guide in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century English Drama by Sharon Rose Yang (review)Jasmine Lellock
University of Maryland, College Park Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality edited by Dick Houtman and Brigit Meyer (review)Ian Lowrie
Rice University The Witch in the Western Imagination by Lyndal Roper (review)Michael Ostling
University of Queensland Witch Beliefs and Witch Trials in the Middle Ages: Documents and Readings by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart (review)Brian A. Pavlac
King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism edited by Henrik Bogdan and Martin P. Starr (review)Nick Serra
Upper Iowa University The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West by Brian P. Levack (review)Moshe Sluhovsky
Hebrew University of Jerusalem