31.3.15

Magic in the West

Two titles from Cambridge presenting a broad historical survey of Western magic and the occult.

David J. Collin. The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge University Press (April 2015)

This book presents twenty chapters by experts in their fields, providing a thorough and interdisciplinary overview of the theory and practice of magic in the West. Its chronological scope extends from the Ancient Near East to twenty-first-century North America; its objects of analysis range from Persian curse tablets to US neo-paganism. For comparative purposes, the volume includes chapters on developments in the Jewish and Muslim worlds, evaluated not simply for what they contributed at various points to European notions of magic, but also as models of alternative development in ancient Mediterranean legacy. Similarly, the volume highlights the transformative and challenging encounters of Europeans with non-Europeans, regarding the practice of magic in both early modern colonization and more recent decolonization.

Brian P. Copenhaver. Magic in Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment. Cambridge University Press (30 April 2015)

The story of the beliefs and practices called 'magic' starts in ancient Iran, Greece, and Rome, before entering its crucial Christian phase in the Middle Ages. Centering on the Renaissance and Marsilio Ficino - whose work on magic was the most influential account written in premodern times - this groundbreaking book treats magic as a classical tradition with foundations that were distinctly philosophical. Besides Ficino, the premodern story of magic also features Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus, Aquinas, Agrippa, Pomponazzi, Porta, Bruno, Campanella, Descartes, Boyle, Leibniz, and Newton, to name only a few of the prominent thinkers discussed in this book. Because pictures play a key role in the story of magic, this book is richly illustrated.


27.3.15

Nature of the Beast

Bryan Sykes. The Nature of the Beast: The First Scientific Evidence on the Survival of Apemen into Modern Times. Coronet (9 April 2015)

Professor Bryan Sykes, the world's leading expert on human genetics, set a goal to locate and analyse as many DNA samples as possible with links to the yeti. In doing so, he found himself entering a strange world of mystery and sensationalism, fraud and obsession and even the supernatural. Protected by the ruthless vigour of genetic analysis he was able to listen to the stories of the yeti without having to form an opinion. The only opinion that mattered was the DNA.

Three hair samples from the miogi, the Bhutanese yeti are the cause of the investigation. The hairs did not surrender their secrets easily, but eventually two were identified as known species of bear. The third remained a mystery. One of the many theories to account for the yeti legend is that there were small groups of Neanderthals that had managed to survive until recent times. If so, would it be possible to detect recent interbreeding between our own species and Neanderthals in the genomes of indigenous people living in remote regions? Professor Sykes has made some surprising and significant discoveries. Discoveries that could change our understanding of human origins.


25.3.15

Paranormal A to Z

ABC-CLIO continue their series of substantial encyclopaedias on paranormal and fortean topics with this volume:

Matt Cardin. Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies. ABC-CLIO (31 Mar 2015)

Recent interest in the paranormal as pop culture fodder belies its historical status as an important subject of cultural, philosophical, and scientific significance. This book traces the trajectory of paranormal studies from its early role as a serious academic and scientific topic studied by mainstream scientists and eminent scholars to its current popularity in books, film, and TV. This compelling reference work details the experiences, encounters, and ideas that make up this controversial field of study.

The contributed entries examine the broad phenomena of the paranormal, addressing the history of scientific investigations along with its contemporary media depictions to illustrate the evolution of cultural attitudes about the paranormal. A selection of primary documents provides real-life accounts and contributions from noted experts that explore the full scope of themes from spiritualism to poltergeists to astrology. Accompanying images, timelines, quotations, and sidebars make the content come to life and encourage alternative explanations of these events.


21.3.15

Man, Myth and Monster.

As interesting-seeming title, which looks at the world of the cryptozoologists as much as at the cryptids themselves.

Michael Newton. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. McFarland & Co. (30 Mar. 2015)

On every continent and in every nation, animals unrecognized by modern science are reported on a daily basis. People passionately pursue these creatures - the name given to their field of study is cryptozoology. Coined in the 1950's, the term literally means the science of hidden animals. When the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC) was formed in 1982, the founders declared that the branch of science is also concerned with "the possible existence of known animals in areas where they are not supposed to occur (either now or in the past) as well as the unknown persistence of presumed extinct animals to the present time or to the recent past...what makes an animal of interest to cryptology is that it is unexpected".

This reference work presents a "flesh and blood" view of cryptozoology. Here, 2,744 entries are listed, the majority of which each describe one specific creature or type of creature. Those entries cover creatures that have been reported from an extremely wide variety of locations worldwide, and throughout recorded history. Other entries cover 742 places where unnamed cryptids are said to appear; profiles of 77 groups and 112 individuals who have contributed to the field; descriptions of objects and events important to the subject; and essays on cryptotourism and hoaxes, for example. Appendices offer a timeline of zoological discoveries, annotated lists of movies and television series with cryptozoological themes, a list of crypto-fiction titles and a list of Internet websites devoted to cryptozoology.


12.3.15

Modernism and Occultism

A new look at the social and cultural background to the development of modern occultism:

John Bramble. Modernism and the Occult. Palgrave (25 Mar 2015)

Building on art-historian Bernard Smith's insights about modernism's debts to the high imperial occult and exotic, this book explores the transcultural, 'anti-modern vitalist', and magical-syncretic dimensions of the arts of the period 1880-1960. Avoiding simplistic hypotheses about 're-enchantment', it tracks the specifically modernist, not the occult revivalist or proto-New Age, manifestations of the occult-syncretic-exotic conglomerate.

The focus is high empire, where the 'Buddhist' Schopenhauer cult and Theosophy, the last aided by Bergson, Nietzsche and neo-Vedanta, brought contrasting decreative-catastrophic and regenerative-utopian notes into the arts. Another instance of the Eastward turn in modernist esotericism, the Fifties 'Zen' vogue is also considered. This is the first overview of what modernists, as opposed to sectarian occultists, actually did with the occult. As such, it reframes the intellectual history of the modernist era, to present the occult/syncretic as an articulative idiom - a resource for making sense of the kaleidoscopic strangeness, fluidity and indeterminacy of modern life.


6.3.15

Beastly Killings

S. R. Schwalb and Gustavo S. Romero. Beast: Werewolves, Serial Killers, and Man-Eaters: The Mystery of the Monsters of the Gevaudan. Skyhorse Publishing (19 Mar 2015)

Using biology and history to investigate a series of grisly deaths in the countryside of 18th-century France. Something unimaginable occurred from 1764 to 1767 in the remote highlands of south-central France. For three years, a real-life monster, or monsters, ravaged the region, slaughtering by some accounts more than 100 people, mostly women and children, and inflicting severe injuries upon many others. Alarmed rural communities--and their economies--were virtually held hostage by the marauder, and local officials and Louis XV deployed dragoons and crack wolf hunters from far-off Normandy and the King's own court to destroy the menace. And with the creature's reign of terror occurring at the advent of the modern newspaper, it can be said the ferocious attacks in the Gevaudan region were one of the world's first media sensations.

Despite extensive historical documentation about this awesome predator, no one seemed to know exactly what it was. Theories abounded: Was it an exotic animal, such as a hyena, that had escaped from a menagerie? A werewolf? A wolf-dog hybrid? A new species? Some kind of conspiracy? Or, as was proposed by the local bishop, was it a scourge of God? To this day, debates on the true nature of La Bete, The Beast, continue. With historical illustrations, composite sketches by the author, on-the-scene modern-day photographs, autopsy analysis, and fictionalized accounts, Beast takes a fascinating look at all the evidence, using a mix of history and modern biology to advance a theory that could solve one of the most bizarre and unexplained killing sprees of all time: France's infamous Beast of the Gevaudan.


1.2.15

Pagan Britain

Ronald Hutton. Pagan Britain. Yale University Press. (15 Feb 2015)

Britain's pagan past, with its mysterious monuments, atmospheric sites, enigmatic artifacts, bloodthirsty legends, and cryptic inscriptions, is both enthralling and perplexing to a resident of the twenty-first century. In this ambitious and thoroughly up-to-date book, Ronald Hutton reveals the long development, rapid suppression, and enduring cultural significance of paganism, from the Paleolithic Era to the coming of Christianity. He draws on an array of recently discovered evidence and shows how new findings have radically transformed understandings of belief and ritual in Britain before the arrival of organized religion.

Setting forth a chronological narrative, Hutton along the way makes side visits to explore specific locations of ancient pagan activity. He includes the well-known sacred sites--Stonehenge, Avebury, Seahenge, Maiden Castle, Anglesey--as well as more obscure locations across the mainland and coastal islands. In tireless pursuit of the elusive "why" of pagan behavior, Hutton astonishes with the breadth of his understanding of Britain's deep past and inspires with the originality of his insights.