I'm teaching a course this semester called 'Witches, Healers & Saints' mostly so I could teach a lot about witches. One of the themes developing in all my courses is how the few people with power often abuse it (honestly, it's always been there -- I'm just making it more overt now), but a major theme in this class is magic as technology.
My aim is to get away from the modern impulse to see magic only as 'superstition'; our belief in our superiority to the past causes us to dismiss too many things. If you think of magic as the best knowledge available at the time about some very mysterious things, it's easier to understand the role it played. I'm introducing the students to sympathetic magic and the power of charms (like the Anglo-Saxon Charm for Bees or the Charm against a Wen).
I am looking forward to the final episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrellon Sunday (I think it's begun in the States more recently). It's been fun seeing an 'alternate' history of magic, though I will be sad to see it end. It got me thinking about a period in history that leads to a lot of confusion. When people say 'witch hunts' most people still seem to think of the Middle Ages, though the worst years were part of the Early Modern era, sometimes known as the Renaissance (a much disputed term for a variety of reasons). While many see the dividing line as the Reformation, the roots of that change can be see in Wycliffe and the Lollards in the 14th century. I tend to see Gutenberg's innovation as a technological change, though even there printing existed before his moveable type -- but the speed of the technology has all kinds of impacts as we know in the internet age.
Imagine... What if Mother Goose was the ancient European Mother Goddess in disguise, hidden from the patriarchal, monotheistic church that took over Europe, appearing in print just as the Inquisition and Witch-hunts drove anything non-Christian underground? What if the Mother Goose “nursery rhymes” taught to children over the last few centuries were a way to pass on an encoded pre-Christian worldview? Are fairy tales the carriers of the Pagan values of ancestors who had to disguise them as “peasant imbecilities” to keep them in cultural memory in a stratified society, of which the hierarchical authorities wanted to eradicate their egalitarian, animistic, and earthy worldview?
The Anglo-Saxons often explained disease and inflammation by the presence of small creatures or their “weapons.”A well-known charm seeks to remove the evil influence of “elf-shot” and several others fight the effects of other poisonous arrows.This may seem quaint to our modern sensibilities—unless we consider this to be a metaphorical understanding of germs and viruses. Maybe our medieval forebears weren’t so naïve after all.
The following charm appears in a manuscript that dates to the 12th century (BL Royal MS 4 A xiv).It tries to cajole and threaten a wen (“a lump or protuberance on the body” per the Oxford English Dictionary) to take up residence elsewhere and leave the afflicted person.The tokens of the wolf and the eagle may well have been used in the healer’s ceremony—many scholars believe the Anglo-Saxons to have had a shamanictradition.This charm can easily be adapted to remove from your life any unwelcome presence (and works well, in my experience!).Underlines indicate the alliterating pairs of words: the primary arrangement of Anglo-Saxon poetry is repeated sounds at the beginning of words (as opposed to end rhyme, the more familiar "moon/june" type of rhyming). It helps that any vowel alliterates with any other vowel.
Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2000.
For better and worse, Aleister Crowley is one of the pivotal figures in the recent history of magic. He is also one of the more inscrutable, and the difficulties of his deliberate misdirections are multiplied by the revulsion that his actions and ideas can create. He proclaimed himself the divinely inspired messenger of a vast cultural shift and a magician of the highest achievement, but was widely reviled and - much worse from his perspective - often ignored. Capturing the breadth of these paradoxes in a single personality is not easy, and Sutin tackles it well in his biography of Crowley, which makes an excellent introduction for anyone trying to gain the necessary perspective on Crowley and his work.
This is the third posting of the (en)LIV(en)ING with the Muses Series
The Muse, Clio is considered the Muse of History. Her name, sometimes spelled Kleio is a form of the greek verb, “Kleo” which means to make famous, to recall or to celebrate. She makes full use of her birth right as the daughter of Mnemosyne (Goddess of Remembrance) as memory is a key component that every historian must rely upon to accurately give account of events, people and places. Unlike her sisters, who are more directly related to the act of inspiring whatever their specialty is, Clio works at the level of codifying and giving durability to what is the product of those inspirations.