Papal Magic During Pestilence

This may be the last place you’d expect to find content like this, I’m sure. At the time of this writing, the world is currently stuck in the clutches of the awful Covid19 pandemic. Naturally my our energies are spent on more important things than writing on a niche website. But this particular bit of papal magic was not only extremely interesting, but also quite moving. More importantly, it is living history unfolding before our eyes.
Last week was the Pope’s semi-annual Urbi et Orbi declaration, where he traditionally pontificates on the state of the Church and the world, took place in an emptied St. Peter’s square. After his address, the small number of clergy present performed the rites of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. Here, the pope took the ostensorium in his hands, and blessed the whole city of Rome, and perhaps the whole world, with the sacred host. As he did so, the basilica and the surrounding churches began to PEEL with thunderous resounding, while the sirens of the gendarmeria blared in salute. As soon as the pope had finished, the bells stopped and silence again fell over the empty square. It was like watching something from the end of the world.
Also present was a miraculous crucifix which was reported to cure the City during a plague in 1522. The pope reverenced this relic as it was also exposed to the open square, obviously in the hopes that the pandemic will soon end. We shall see what efficacious qualities this rite may bare.

Watch this moment of magic below:

The Tooth Worm as Hell’s Demon

According to medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, tooth worms were a legitimate concern in dental medicine as far back as 5,000 BCE, where they were first mentioned in a Sumerian medical text. By the 8th century CE, the idea of worms causing tooth decay had reached Europe. As they describe it:

Treatment of tooth worms varied depending on the severity of the patient’s pain. Often, practitioners would try to ‘smoke’ the worm out by heating a mixture of beeswax and henbane seed on a piece of iron and directing the fumes into the cavity with a funnel. Afterwards, the hole was filled with powered henbane seed and gum mastic.  This may have provided temporary relief given the fact that henbane is a mild narcotic. Many times, though, the achy tooth had to be removed altogether. Some tooth-pullers mistook nerves for tooth worms, and extracted both the tooth and the nerve in what was certainly an extremely painful procedure in a period before anaesthetics. – Fitzharris

In this unattributed 18th century ivory carving which stands at 4″ tall, demons can be seen wrestling with the tooth worm amid swirling hellfire, next to figures beating and clubbing the souls of the damned in eternal pain. Anyone who has ever suffered an extended toothache can sympathize with the hellish torment depicted here.
Many medical spells for toothache can be found throughout history. One spell found in the Cambridge Book of Magic (1530’s), the cunning man is instructed to “write on bread or in an apple or in cheese: ‘Loy: Gloy: and Zedoloy’, and say an Our Father, Hail Mary and Creed.” In Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (1900), there is listed a folk spell from Scotland where toothache sufferers would drink water from a magic well called Cuidh-airidh. A number of spells from Germany involved magically transferring the toothache somewhere else, especially with a coffin nail. The sufferer would ask a grave-differ for a coffin nail, poke it into his gums, then drive the nail into the ground a crossroads, or into a door, taking the toothache with it.
One time I myself had a terrible wisdom toothache (and no dental insurance!), so I ate a  single psilocybin mushroom, and then earnestly begged the spirit of the mushroom to heal me of the pain. For what it’s worth, the pain did go away until I had to have my wisdom teeth finally pulled. Experience has shown me that magic is never a proper substitute for good medicine. 

Demonology & Magic in Ancient Egypt

It is difficult to speak of ancient Egypt in concrete terms because of the great length of Egyptian history and culture, which spanned a period of almost 3,800 years and over 30 dynasties. As such it can’t be treated monolithically. Still we can recognize certain themes which repeat themselves over the ages, especially in magic and religion which are slower to change.
In ancient Egypt, magic and religion were both part of a broader holistic worldview which also included medicine, astronomy, law, politics and beyond. It is hard to even use the word magic in the context of Egypt, since our word magic comes from the Greek μαγεία, which carries a connotation of trickery, malice or charlatanism. In Egyptian thought, there was no such thing as evil magic. To them, magic itself was deified in the person of Heka. Heka was often depicted in cooperation with the Sun and other gods of creation, and was the power they possessed. So, magic was an integral part of their religion. Because their magic, Heka, was a god, there is no place in Egyptian life where magic was illegal, except if used against the pharaoh (which to them would be blasphemy).

Heka attending Ra through the netherworld. Book of the Gates, KV16


Magical activity was present in almost every facet of Egyptian life. Scholars usually identify three aspects of magical practice: apotropaic, curative and transformative magic. Magic was conducted by all manner of people: priests, physicians, local wise men and the pharaoh were all magicians. It was this group of practitioners who were able to summon gods and the liminal beings we would now refer to as demons. Spells for protection can be found on numerous objects, amulets, papyri, coffins, jars, books, murals and figurines for example. Curative magic was used for healing, and spells are often found on statues meant to heal the sick. Medico-magical texts were used in earnest by physicians. Transformative magic, equally popular around the rest of the Mediterranean, was used in the form of not only love and binding spells, but for Egyptians in the Books of the Dead where the deceased would use magic to transform themselves into a god, a plant, a bird or a perfected spirit.

Osiris standing next to Maat, goddess of Truth. Scene of deceased entering into the Halls of Truth. BM EA 10554.

Magical characters, tools or spells can often be identified by their common elements, especially by the presence of the serpent. Could this have also shown how Egyptian magic was understood by other cultures such as the magical battle between Aaron the the court magicians (Ex. 7:9-12)? Gods, magicians, priests and demons could be seen with serpent wands and other attributes if they were performing spells.

Copper alloy wand of a cobra. Fitzwilliam 63 (Cambridge, 1896).

How were gods and demons distinguished? They were often represented in similar forms. Gods appeared in myths of creation whereas demons did not. Gods took care of mortals both living and deceased. Demons could communicate with humans but mainly they just needed to be appeased. Gods were also distinguished by their worship in cults, and so they had a more fixed iconography.

Priest wearing a mask of Horus performing the Ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth on a mummy, TT359 Tomb of Anherkau, Thebes XX Dynasty.

There is an issue of translation of modern to ancient concepts and terms. The modern idea of demons is formed by the Judeo-Christian sense of an evil spirit sent to punish sinners, or as symbols of temptation. The ancient Greek δαίμων served as an intermediary between gods and mortals.

“For the divine does not mix with the mortal, and it is only through the mediation of the daimones that mortals can have any interaction with the gods, either while awake or asleep.” -Symposium, 202d, 13-203a

This fits well with the Egyptian idea of demons as liminal figures who communicate between the world of the main gods and humans. While the Greeks distinguished between good and bad demons, the Egyptians mainly did not. These spirits were guardians and servants of greater gods. They were often depicted in mortuary settings such as tombs and sarcaphogi, because they were known to guard specific regions or gates of the netherworld. From the 1st century BCE, coffins were often used similarly to papyrus by being covered in written spells. The Egyptians wanted these spells as close to the body as possible. They could only be dangerous to the one who did not have the specific knowledge needed to approach them. This knowledge was contained in spells written in papyri and coffins, which listed their names and told which gates they guarded. Their names often illustrated their appearance or function, such as “The Hearer”, “Sad of Voice”, “One Who Stretches Out His Brow”, “One With Vigilant Face”.

Demons (upper) protecting the soul of Ani and his wife as they encounter the final judgment of Anubis. Papyrus of Ani BM 10470, Book of the Dead spells 144, 146)

Demons could be conjured to protect from other demons, although malicious demons are never depicted in Egyptian art. Wandering spirits, bringers of disease, and godly messengers all fell under this category of demon. One XIX Dynasty headrest depicts demons with the head of a crocodile or vulture, spitting out serpents, holding snakes and daggers, which was meant to ward off evil spirits. These more malicious beings were controlled by the main gods. Demonizing an illness may have psychologically helped patients cope with their suffering, which is why we have so many spells where medical prescriptions are also included. Egyptian doctors used magical spells together with medical knowledge to great effect.

Headrest depicting a demon holding serpents and daggers, Heidelberg 290, XIX Dynasty
Cippus depicting Horus holding serpents and trampling crocodiles, 3rd c. BCE, Brooklyn Museum
Article based on notes from public lecture given by Professor Rita Lucarelli to the Harvard Semitic Museum, Feb 21 2019.

Astrophotography Milestones & Celestial Adventures

I don’t live in a place where clear skies happen often–such a shame because one of my favorite hobbies is astrophotography. This year though, I made an arrangement (with a church, of all groups!) to make use of a private field near my house for astronomy purposes. Astronomy is, after all, hugely important to magic!
On the night after Christmas, the sky finally cooperated and so I went out to this field for the first time to take pictures with some new equipment. As expected, the cops showed up in the middle of my work with their obnoxious bright lights, ruining whatever shot my camera was working on. Know-nothing neighbors had reported suspicious activity where a strange man was allegedly taking pictures of their houses in the middle of the night. So I showed the cops my equipment, and my proof of permission to be there.
That still didn’t stop the interruptions since other nosy neighbors simply plowed through the pristine field in their 4-wheeler to stop right in front of my camera to see what I was doing. “I’m taking pictures of space. You just drove right through my shot man”. They were nice enough to apologize and we talked a bit about space before I shoo-ed them off. It was a night of hassle and obstruction, but I at least managed to get two decent pictures using a barn-door tracker which I had built the week prior.
This imaging session represents a big milestone for me, as it was the first time I have ever successfully imaged another galaxy. It just boggles my mind that the precious light from those stars had been traveling across the vast ocean of space for 2.5 MILLION years before it made its final destination in the sensor of my camera. In my city, the night pollution is a nightmare. I don’t get to practice much but I am always studying to improve my techniques. This is proof to me that study and sound theory make good results!

Orion constellation. 54 frames at 50″ each, totaling 45 minutes of exposure. Stacked in DSS and then edited in PS.
Andromeda galaxy (2.5 million LY away). 34 frames at 50″ each, totaling a mere 27 minutes of exposure time. Stacked in DSS then edited in PS.

I’ve been using this Fall and Winter to spend more time under the night sky, not only making astronomical observations, but in spiritual contemplation. My coven recently had our annual High Sabbat of the Woods where there was much time to lay under the stars in a visionary state. We spent most of our trip watching the sky from dusk till dawn. As the trip started kicking in, the sun was setting in a gorgeous gradient of orange red and yellow against the black horizon of trees, as Venus and Jupiter glided downwards to follow the sun. I could see how the planets are revolving around the sun in a 3D universe, not just the dome of the sky. It was a moment of cosmic revelation which just made me feel so incredible small against the unfathomably huge and ancient universe.
For a time, our group had been scattered about in the woods exploring. When we all suddenly met each other in a cypress swamp, we looked through the dense trees at what seemed like an industrial light nearby. It was the moon, shining so brightly and hanging low and large above the horizon. The rest of our trip was lit entirely by moonlight. It was a beautiful night of enchantment and delight.

Romanian Witches Casting Spells on Politicians

Through all of history, witchcraft has been (and still remains) one of the means by which women, the poor, outsiders and all who were otherwise disenfranchised have empowered themselves against systems of control and corruption. See this new report by VICE on the Romanian witches who are cursing European politicians. I don’t know anything about Romanian magic, but the themes they are talking about resonate with those of the magical resistance in these U.S.A.

Yes I watch and read VICE! They are returning to their original standards of actual journalism (sometimes). 

Matthew Hopkins & the Essex Witch Craze

While the Inquisition had been prosecuting and executing witches for centuries, the witch craze never really took off in England until the reign of James I. If anything, magic had an everyday place in English lives during the Tudor dynasty. This is not to say that witchcraft (then differentiated from magic) was free from scrutiny. But from the court-sanctioned experimentations of Dr. John Dee and other Christological magicians, the coastal witches who warded off the Spanish Armada with the help of Sir Francis Drake, to the rustic cures and spells offered by the cunning men and women, as well as the fantasy magical elements featured in popular culture such as Marlowe’s Faustus or Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest—magic was everywhere!

John Dee & Edward Kelley employing a magic circle to invoke a spirit. The Astrologer of the 19th Century, 1825

During the height of witch persecution on the Continent, there were no large-scale witch trials in England for a number of reasons. The ecclesial separation from other areas of Christian Europe meant that the English church had its own priorities, e.g. the persecution and removal of the treacherous papists! There was also a lack of any desire from authorities to conduct a witch hunt in the first place. The final decline of witch trials came at the latter half of the 17th century as a result of the rise of new scientific thought and the works of natural philosophers like Isaac Newton who were now able to explain the universe in mechanical ways, causing a decline in the belief in the possibility of magic to influence the world.
In English witchcraft trials, it is odd to see any reference to making a pact with the Devil. There are no witches’ sabbats, no sex with devils, nor did English witches fly. They did however have imps and familiars. Ursula Kemp was alleged to have four familiars: two cats, a toad called Piggen, and a lamb named Tiffin. Witches were usually only condemned for maleficium. These trials were rarely issued from above. English court records feature a lot of individual prosecutions from below by the alleged victims of witchcraft seeking redress in the courts. Trials against witchcraft were generally few and far between, except in the counties surrounding London.

Woodcut of witches flying. Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, 1689

Cases of witchcraft were coming predominantly from Essex. During the reign of Elizabeth I, for example, Hertfordshire only produced 24 cases, Sussex only 14, yet Essex produced 172 cases! Between 1560 and 1580, 270 individuals were prosecuted for witchcraft in Essex alone. Most of these trials took place in the last quarter of the 16th century, and became very rare everywhere after 1620. This decline can be explained by the fact that by the 1580’s judges were becoming very worried about the difficulties of proving witchcraft. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they were skeptical—many likely still believed that witchcraft was possible. But how could you prove witchcraft unless they confessed? In English law, torture was not used except in state trials when authorized by the Privy Council. It was routinely used in Scotland and the Continent. How could prosecutors root out natural causes of these alleged injuries? And if it were actually witchcraft, who did it? In cases of witchcraft, the normal rules of evidence could not apply.

Elizabeth I, after the Darnley pattern, c. 1585

With an increasing level of methodical jurisprudence, why they was there also a rise in the concerns against witchcraft in the 17th century? The dominant explanations offered by Thomas[1] and Macfarlane[2] show that witches were frequently elderly women who were accused of bewitching neighbors, not strangers, and who were often poorer than their victims. This suggests that accusations were rising as a result of tensions between poorer women and their competitive neighbors. While it is possible that some of those accused did practice magic and believe they had the power to harm, or that they responded to these accusations by playing the part of the witch given to them by reputation, there must have been some incident serious enough to start an honest investigation into witchcraft. In Essex, there was an average of four witnesses per accused witch. Witchcraft accusations could arise as a result of personal rivalries in local politics, used to discredit others and so on.
Thomas suggests that this peak period of witchcraft anxiety came with the rising concern in the loss of belief in the power of ecclesial protection and counter-magic, and secondly because that period was one of unusual tensions within village societies. Economic distress caused a declining position for the poor and widows. Poor Laws had not yet been put into effect for this population. The decline in charity among neighbors meant that accusing one of witchcraft could become a means to severing responsibility for the poor, and transferring this guilt to an accused witch.
Why were the Witchcraft Acts passed in the first place, and why did so many cases arise in Essex? Why were other counties similar to Essex not so affected? It’s worth considering that these laws were passed when they were for two reasons. Both were passed at the beginning of two monarchical regimes (Elizabeth I, then James I). This suggests that elements of symbolism or propaganda were being set up to confirm the legitimacy and uprightness of the monarch, who would be seen opposing certain subversive (yet harmless) acts. Another element was the perceived threats against the monarch. In 1561, two years before the 1563 act passed, a plot was discovered where sorcery was being used against Elizabeth. William Cecil discovered then that there were no acts preventing these crimes. The 1604 Act followed the succession of James I to the throne. He was a man with profound interest in witchcraft, having written his treatise Daemonologie after a group of witches were uncovered attempting to kill him in a shipwreck. The witchcraft acts of England and Scotland were then overhauled and combined.

James I & VI of England & Scotland, after John de Critz, 1606

As a result of these acts, the political and ecclesiastical elite had a bigger role in managing cases of witchcraft. It is possible then that Essex was peculiarly conscious of threats of witchcraft. The use of criminal law against witches had terrible publicity there. Three group trials took place in 1566, 1582 and 1589. In each case, an initial accusation was vigorously pursued by justices who had a particular concern against witchcraft. These trials were then publicized in pamphlets, which may have had the effect of heightening the sense of threat people felt, or even a moral panic. This paved the way then in 1644 for Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General.

Woodcut of Matthew Hopkins from his book, The Discovery of Witches…, 1647

Between 1644 and 1647, Matthew Hopkins traveled throughout East Anglia and hired himself out as a consultant for the discovery of witches. He came to have gained his experience by accidentally encountering a meeting of witches in Manningtree, Essex. The witches met and offered sacrifices to the Devil, and gave commands to their familiars to do harm. English prosecutions until then had been sporadic, except in Anglia where they then came in great waves. With the Witchcraft Acts of Elizabeth and James now making witchcraft a felony, Hopkins was free to pursue witches as state criminals and so use extreme acts to gain his confessions. Though torture was still illegal, one method he employed was in keeping the accused witch awake for days at a time until they would confess[3]. Another means of torture which he employed was the infamous trial by dunking in water. The aim of Hopkins was not to prove a witch guilty of committing maleficium, rather of having consorted with Satan, and thus being a heretic. During this time, Hopkins is suspected of executing 300 alleged witches, or 60% of all cases in a period of 300 years of English history. His 1647 account of witch-finding, The Discovery of Witches would later influence the witch craze in New England, including the madness that was the Salem witch hysteria of 1692-1693.

Ducking stool. 18th century drawing reproduced in Chap-books of the 18th Century by John Ashton, 1834

[1] Thomas, K. (1971). Religion and the decline of magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth-century England.
[2] Macfarlane, A. (1970). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study.
[3] Hopkins, M. (1647). The discovery of witches: in answer to severall queries, lately delivered to the judges of assize for the county of Norfolk. And now published by Matthew Hopkins Witch-finder, for the benefit of the whole kingdome.

The Sword of Malice

Hello again. As promised now that my thesis has been submitted and I am set to graduate, I have so much more time again to dedicate to other readings, writings and magical experiments. I am very excited for what’s soon to be entered into The Book of Faustus.

***

Any regular reader knows about my intense hatred for the Orange Fool currently occupying the White House. You’ll also then know about the monthly mass-binding which members of the magical community have been undertaking for the past three years. I still maintain that this action is working to contain what immense social and ecological evil lies in the infirm mind of His Rotundity. But now that impeachment proceedings are well under way (not that I realistically expect The Bloated One to be convicted by the GOP controlled Senate, let’s be frank), I don’t feel like binding is enough anymore.
So from now on I’m putting aside the sword of justice and picking up (literally) the Sword of Malice, and magically swinging it against the neck of Cheeto Mussolini. In the ritual chamber, my wrath is palpable. I can almost feel it thickening the atmosphere with indignant, wild rage. After these spells are released, I am experiencing deep cathartic relief. The problem is that almost every day the headlines fill me up with anger again. So, I have been performing these curses frequently. I am fully ready to admit that confirmation bias is a real thing, but as soon as I started this curse sequence, Trumple-Thin-Skin spent the weekend in hospital. Just saying.
One positive outcome of the presidency of the Tiny-Handed Tornado is that it has invigorated my magical practice! When I think back on the stories of witches past, who rose up against evil in the darkest hour, I can’t help but feel sympathy and solidarity with them.
We are living in some fucked up times.