15.7.14

British Vampires

In many ways England, as much as Transylvania, can be said to the be home of the vampire. This book explores the links.

Paul Adams. Written in Blood: A Cultural History of the British Vampire [Paperback]
The History Press. (1 July 2014)

Vampires, chilling supernatural creatures of the night - do they really exist? The British Isles has a remarkable association with the realms of the undead, from the nineteenth-century world of Croglin Grange, Varney the Vampire and Stoker's Dracula, through to Hammer Films and the modern phenomenon of the Highgate Vampire. In this new and thought-provoking book, illustrated with many never before seen photographs and drawing on extensive original research, is a detailed and fascinating exploration of the history of British vampirism in both fact and fiction; a modern guide where every page is truly written in blood ...


11.7.14

Brain Gain

Looking at the organ that creates our 'visions and beliefs':

Nick Bostrom. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford. (3 July)

From the publisher's website: The human brain has some capabilities that the brains of other animals lack. It is to these distinctive capabilities that our species owes its dominant position. Other animals have stronger muscles or sharper claws, but we have cleverer brains.

If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence.

But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation?

To get closer to an answer to this question, we must make our way through a fascinating landscape of topics and considerations. Read the book and learn about oracles, genies, singletons; about boxing methods, tripwires, and mind crime; about humanity's cosmic endowment and differential technological development; indirect normativity, instrumental convergence, whole brain emulation and technology couplings; Malthusian economics and dystopian evolution; artificial intelligence, and biological cognitive enhancement, and collective intelligence.

This profoundly ambitious and original book picks its way carefully through a vast tract of forbiddingly difficult intellectual terrain. Yet the writing is so lucid that it somehow makes it all seem easy. After an utterly engrossing journey that takes us to the frontiers of thinking about the human condition and the future of intelligent life, we find in Nick Bostrom's work nothing less than a reconceptualization of the essential task of our time.


Signs and Wonders

Nigel Pennick has written on a huge variety of occult and related subjects from Celtic magic, subterranean England, earth mysteries and geomancy, to the electric tramways of Cambridge!

Nigel Pennick. The Book of Primal Signs; The High Magic of Symbols, Destiny Books (Bear & Co), July 2014

From the publisher's website: From ancient rock and cave art to the contemporary brand logos of politics and business, human beings have always created symbols to denote specific ideas, groups, or important objects as well as to convey deeper information than can be communicated in words. Many glyphs have retained their meanings over millennia whereas some have modern meanings vastly different from the original connotation. In this study of symbols, Nigel Pennick explores glyphs as agents of higher consciousness and ports of access to the collective unconscious, acknowledging the continuity of tradition, both deliberate and not, as well as how interpretations of some symbols, such as the swastika, have changed dramatically.

With more than 300 unique woodcuts, drawings, calligraphy, and photographs—many never before reproduced—Pennick examines ancient and enduring glyphs indetail, such as the circle, cross, eye, pentagram, fleur de lis, tree of life, and horseshoe, as well as several families of symbols, such as craftsmen’s marks, runes, symbolic beasts, human heads and skulls, and the sigils of Mammon. The author explains the multiple forms and uses of each from ancient times to the present day, reflecting their roots in the Western Mystery tradition. He explores the symbols of high magic such as the glyph of John Dee’s monad, those of folk magic such as the traditional cock on the weather-vane, and the creation of modern glyphs such as the peace sign and the anarchy symbol. Contrasting the hi-jacked use of power symbols in modern advertising with the vital role of symbols in traditional arts and crafts, Pennick reveals how symbols link the cosmic with the terrestrial and allow us to infuse the mundane with the numinous.


6.7.14

Alchemy for Beginners!

Cathy Cobb. The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged. Random House International (1 July 2014)

A unique approach to the history of science using do-it-yourself experiments along with brief historical profiles to demonstrate how the ancient alchemists stumbled upon the science of chemistry. Be the alchemist! Explore the legend of alchemy with the science of chemistry. Enjoy over twenty hands-on demonstrations of alchemical reactions.

In this exploration of the ancient art of alchemy, three veteran chemists show that the alchemists' quest involved real science and they recount fascinating stories of the sages who performed these strange experiments. Why waste more words on this weird deviation in the evolution of chemistry? As the authors show, the writings of medieval alchemists may seem like the ravings of brain-addled fools, but there is more to the story than that. Recent scholarship has shown that some seemingly nonsensical mysticism is, in fact, decipherable code, and Western European alchemists functioned from a firmer theoretical foundation than previously thought.

They had a guiding principle, based on experience: separate and purify materials by fire and reconstitute them into products, including, of course, gold and the universal elixir, the Philosophers' stone. Their efforts were not in vain: by trial, by error, by design, and by persistence, the alchemists discovered acids, alkalis, alcohols, salts, and exquisite, powerful, and vibrant reactions--which can be reproduced using common products, minerals, metals, and salts.


5.7.14

British Witches

Peter Maxwell-Stuart. The British Witch the Biography. Amberley Publishing (28 Jun 2014)

For over five hundred years witches, male and female, practised magic for harm and good in their communities. Most witches worked locally, used by their neighbours to cure illness, create love, or gratify personal spite against another. Margaret Lindsay from Northumberland was prosecuted for making men impotent, John Stokes in London for curing fevers, Collas de la Rue on Guernsey for killing people by witchcraft, Florence Newton from County Cork for causing fits, and Isobel Gowdie in Auldearn for a variety of offences including consorting with Satan and fairies. But in the fifteenth century they attacked a succession of English monarchs through enchanted images, and in the sixteenth sought ways to kill James VI of Scotland, too. A succession of Acts of Parliament made much magic criminal and punished offenders severely, until a final Act in 1735 repealed them.

This monumental new history for the first time describes witches, their magic, and the attempts to eradicate them throughout the British Isles, and alters our picture of who those witches were and why people employed them but also tried to suppress them.


17.6.14

Witchcraft Today - Today

Trevor Greenfield. Witchcraft Today - 60 Years On. Moon Books. (June 27, 2014)

In the sixty years following the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, new paths have appeared, and older ones emerged out of the shadow of repression and illegality, to express with a new and more confident voice their beliefs and practice, and share, with a steadily growing audience, their knowledge, their certainties, their questions and their vision. This book is a celebration of some of the many paths that Witchcraft/Wicca has taken and of the journeys that people have embarked upon.


15.6.14

Fabian's Failure?

Simon Read. The Case That Foiled Fabian: Murder and Witchcraft in Rural England. The History Press Ltd (2 Jun 2014)

On Wednesday 14 February 1945, the body of Charles Walton was discovered beneath a willow tree in the sleepy Warwickshire village of Lower Quinton, his torso pinned to the ground by a pitchfork that had been viciously driven through him. Walton, a life-long resident of Lower Quinton and a retired labourer, was believed by many to be a clairvoyant who could talk to birds and exercise control over animals. Indeed, with the vast majority of villagers believing that Walton's death was carried out according to ritual witchcraft, such was his unusual past, the most famous police officer in Britain, Robert Fabian ('Fabian of the Yard'), was promptly dispatched by Scotland Yard to help solve this increasingly peculiar and foreboding mystery.

Fabian was not a man prone to superstition and who had dealt with some of the most notorious killers of his time. However, there was something in the Walton murder that proved to be unnerving. Moreover, with all the clues continuing to point towards ritual witchcraft as the modus operandi and faced by a wall of silence from the villagers, Fabian faced, for the first time in his glittering career, the daunting prospect of failure.

Renowned crime historian Simon Read will piece together the now-infamous events at Lower Quinton in an effort to provide an answer to the unrequited question: who killed Charles Walton, the victim of the last ritual witchcraft murder in Britain?