28.6.15

The Flight of the Goose

Bernard Roger. The Initiatory Path in Fairy Tales: The Alchemical Secrets of Mother Goose. Inner Traditions Bear and Company (16 July 2015)

In his Mystery of the Cathedrals, the great alchemist Fulcanelli revealed the teachings of the hermetic art encoded in the sculpture and stained glass of the great cathedrals of Europe. What he did for churches, his disciple Bernard Roger does here for fairy tales. Through exhaustive analysis of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, and others, Roger demonstrates how hermetic ideas, especially those embodied in alchemy and Freemasonry, can be found in fairy tales, including such popular stories as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood as well as the tales attributed to "Mother Goose." The goose has long been an important esoteric symbol in the Western Mystery tradition. 

The stories told under the aegis of Mother Goose carry these symbols and secrets, concealed in what hermetic adepts have long called "the language of the birds." Drawing upon the original versions of fairy tales, not the sanitized accounts made into children's movies, the author reveals how the tales illustrate each stage of the Great Work and the alchemical iterations required to achieve them. He shows how the common motif of a hero or heroine sent in search of a rare object by a sovereign before their wishes can be granted is analogous to the Masonic quest for the lost tomb of Hiram or the alchemist's search for the fire needed to perform the Great Work. 

He also reveals how the hero is always aided by a green bird, which embodies the hermetic understanding of the seed and the fruit. Roger demonstrates the truly ancient lineage of these initiatory stories and how they originated as the trigger to push humanity toward higher levels of consciousness.

23.6.15

Taking Possession

Joseph P. Laycock. Spirit Possession Around the World: Possession, Communion, and Demon Expulsion Across Cultures. ABC-CLIO (28 Jun 2015)

Possession and exorcism are elements that occur in nearly every culture. Why is belief in spiritual possession so universal? This accessible reference volume offers a broad sample of the traditions and cultures involving possession and exorcism, presenting thoughts on this widely popular topic by experts from the fields of anthropology, sociology, religious studies, history, neuroscience, forensics, and theology. The entries cover the subject of possession and exorcism across all inhabited continents, from the Bronze Age to the 21st century, providing information that is accessible and intriguing as well as scholarly and authoritative. 

Beyond addressing the Christian tradition of possession and exorcism, Pentecostalism, and "New Age" and less widely known Western concepts about possession and exorcism, this work examines ideas about possession and exorcism from other world religions and the indigenous cultures of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It also covers historic cases of possession and presents biographies of famous theologians, exorcists, and possessed individuals. High school and undergraduate readers will learn about world history, religious and spiritual traditions, and world cultures through a topic that figures prominently in popular culture and modern entertainment. 

18.6.15

Past Time Machines

An intriguing look at medieval and early modern attitudes to nature and science.

E. R. Truitt. Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (The Middle Ages Series) University of Pennsylvania Press (19 Jun. 2015)

A thousand years before Isaac Asimov set down his Three Laws of Robotics, real and imagined automata appeared throughout European courts, liturgies, and literary texts. Medieval robots took such forms as talking statues, mechanical animals, or silent metal guardians; some served to entertain or instruct while others performed disciplinary or surveillance functions. Variously ascribed to artisanal genius, inexplicable cosmic forces, or demonic powers, these marvelous fabrications raised fundamental questions about knowledge, nature, and divine purpose in the Middle Ages. Medieval Robots recovers the forgotten history of fantastical, aspirational, and terrifying machines that especially captivated Europe in imagination and reality between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. 

E. R. Truitt traces the different forms of self-moving or self-sustaining manufactured objects from their earliest appearances in the Latin West through centuries of mechanical and literary invention. Chronicled in romances and song as well as histories and encyclopedias, medieval automata were powerful cultural objects that probed the limits of natural philosophy, illuminated and challenged definitions of life and death, and epitomized the transformative and threatening potential of foreign knowledge and culture. This original and wide-ranging study reveals the convergence of science, technology, and imagination in medieval culture, and demonstrates the striking similarities between medieval and modern robotic and cybernetic visions.

12.6.15

To the Source

Brian P. Levack (Editor) The Witchcraft Sourcebook: Second Edition. Routledge; 2nd. edition (11 Jun. 2015)

The Witchcraft Sourcebook, now in its second edition, is a fascinating collection of documents that illustrates the development of ideas about witchcraft from ancient times to the eighteenth century. Many of the sources come from the period between 1400 and 1750, when more than 100,000 people - most of them women - were prosecuted for witchcraft in Europe and colonial America. During these years the prominent stereotype of the witch as an evil magician and servant of Satan emerged. Catholics and Protestants alike feared that the Devil and his human confederates were destroying Christian society. Including trial records, demonological treatises and sermons, literary texts, narratives of demonic possession, and artistic depiction of witches, the documents reveal how contemporaries from various periods have perceived alleged witches and their activities. 

Brian P. Levack shows how notions of witchcraft have changed over time and considers the connection between gender and witchcraft and the nature of the witch's perceived power. This second edition includes an extended section on the witch trials in England, Scotland and New England, fully revised and updated introductions to the sources to include the latest scholarship and a short bibliography at the end of each introduction to guide students in their further reading. The Sourcebook provides students of the history of witchcraft with a broad range of sources, many of which have been translated into English for the first time, with commentary and background by one of the leading scholars in the field.


9.6.15

Green Men and Nutters

Henry Bourne and Simon Costin. Arcadia Britannica: A Modern British Folklore Portrait. Thames and Hudson. (1 Jun 2015)

Drawing on pagan Celtic, Germanic, and early Christian rites and beliefs, British folklore is a vibrant aspect of Britain's cultural heritage that continues to flourish today. Notable for their music, storytelling, and particularly for the terrific display of costumes revellers wear, Britain's folk festivals are at once great entertainment and a link with the nation's rich cultural history.

Arcadia Britannica is the product of photographer Henry Bourne's repeated trips to some of Britain's greatest folk events: striking colour portraits capture an eccentric collection of individuals in inventive outfits, including arboreal costumes, pagan-inspired creations, and historical garb. These were captured at events like the annual Jack in the Green festival held in Hastings in May, for which the town and its people are decked in green to welcome summer, and the Easter Sunday celebration in Bacup, Lancashire, where fiercely proud Britannia Coconut Dancers (or Nutters ) perform their traditional seven dances. An accompanying text by Simon Costin provides the historical backstory and explains the folklore behind this wacky, inspiring collection of images.


6.6.15

In the Laboratory

Cherry Gilchrist. Alchemy the Great Work: A History and Evaluation of the Western Hermetic Tradition. Weiser Books (Jun. 2015)

Alchemy is the art of transformation. At its simplest, the alchemist turns base metals into gold. However, this is only one dimension of alchemy—at a more sophisticated level the alchemist's "base metal" is symbolic of himself that needs to be worked upon and the "gold" produced is the alchemist himself in his or her quest to perfect his own nature. In short, true alchemy is a discipline involving physical, psychological and spiritual work aimed at producing wholeness and enlightenment.

From the origins of alchemy, both reputed and documented, Cherry Gilchrist's lively and sympathetic narrative takes the reader from the alchemical interests of the ancient Egyptians to the flowering of alchemy in the 17th century. She also elucidates the complexities of alchemical symbolism and examines the ways in which alchemy has developed in the 20th century.

Sean Martin. Alchemy and Alchemists. Pocket Essentials (25 Jun. 2015)

Alchemy has traditionally been viewed as 'the history of an error', an example of mediaeval gullibility and greed, in which alchemists tried to turn lead into gold, create fabulous wealth and find the elixir of life. But alchemy has also been described as 'the mightiest secret that a man can possess', and it obsessed the likes of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and many of the founders of modern science. This book explores its history, from its mysterious beginnings in Egypt and China, through the Hellenistic world and the early years of Islam and into mediaeval Europe.


3.6.15

Hunting the Monster Hunters

Tea Krulos. Monster Hunters.  Chicago Review Press (1 Jun 2015)

Do ghosts exist? What about Bigfoot or Skinwalkers? And how will we ever know? Journalist Tea Krulos spent more than a year traveling nationwide to meet individuals who have made it their life's passion to hunt down evidence of entities that they believe exist but that others might shrug off as nothing more than myths, fairy tales, or the products of overactive imaginations.

Without taking sides in the debate, Krulos joins these believers in the field, exploring haunted houses, trekking through creepy forests, and scanning skies and lakes as they collect data on the unknown poltergeists, chupacabras, Skunk Apes (Bigfoot's stinky cousins), and West Virginia's Mothman. Along the way, he meets a diverse cast of characters-true believers, skeptics, and hoaxers-from the credible to the quirky, and has a couple of hair-raising encounters that make him second-guess his own beliefs.