Friday, March 16, 2007

Blood lust and the 'Evil Dead' in Ancient Egypt (talk)

A talk in march at the Dark Arts Society, Deveraux Public House

I intend to continue my admittedly 'leftfield' exploration of the darker aspects of Egyptian folk magick.

The 'Zar' cult is probably a survival of a popular ancient Egyptian cult that involved 'demon dancing'. I will touch on this at some point in the talk although it might be even better to have someone demonstrate the Zar dance - perhaps one of the regular dancers might be able to have a go - as I believe Zar is part of the modern repetoire. I was wondering if anyone had a copy of Hassan Ramzy's 'Introduction to Egyptian Rhythms'.

Jan Fries has written an interesting chapter on Zar in his Seidways: shaking, swaying and serpent mysteries - he based that on the work of a eminent german anthropologist Enno Littmann, whose results are not otherwise readily available in English. I was pleased to find a connection between 'seething' and egyptian magick.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Magus: The Invisible Life of Elias Ashmole (Review)

By Tobias Churton, 2004, Signal Publishing.

'Elias Ashmole is a particularly striking case of someone who did well out of the Restoration through his flair at 'remembering' a largely apocryphal golden Stuart past before the civil war. His lasting fame and 'name' rest (in the title of the Ashmolean Museum) upon his dubious acquisition of another man's lifetime collection of rarities, and his subseqent gifting of them to the University of Oxford'

Lisa Jardine (2002) On a Grander Scale , her biography of Sir Christopher Wren, quoted by Tobias Churton.

The above quote from Jardine provides the raison d'ĂȘtre for Churton's less eloquent but arguable more informed study of the life and impact of the famous antiquarian Elias Ashmole. The house that Elias built as a repository of one of the world's' first museums, is still Oxford's small but wonderful treasurehouse of scientific history. Recent work to extend the basement turned up Ashmole's alchemical laboratory complete with instruments and human and animal remains. The main exhibit is now divided between the Bodleian library, and the founders room of the new Ashmolean in Broad Street - surely one of the world's great museums. Tradescant's original collection of curiousities is still on display - along with the only known portrait of John Dee and one of Ashmole himself, along with the gold chain presented to him by a Swedish monarch in gratitude for his monumental History of the Order of the Garter. It is said that the actual chain is missing a few links, a sure sign of the frequent ebbs and flows in the fortunes of the old magus.

Churton's excellent redaction of the life is only made possible by the five volume compilation of Ashmole's diaries, autobiographies and related notes published by OUP in 1966. The author, Conrad Hermann Hubertus Maria Apollinaris (Kurt) Josten (Pheeww! you don't get names like these very often these days) solved Ashmole's cipher and was thus able to do the work. Awarded an honorary DLitt by the university for his troubles, after his retirement as curator of the science museum, he become curator emeritus.

Which all goes to show that Jardine has probably got it wrong and Ashmole was no Hasolle and does deserve his fifteen minutes of fame. If you need more persuasion read Churton's book. Perhaps aimed more at the museum bookshop than the serious contemporary magi, it does nevertheless contain some gems, especially concerning his struggles to remake himself after the defeat of the royalist cause (hurrah) during the protectorate of Cromwell (booo). Ashmole tells how he "went to Maidstone assizes to heare the Witches tryed, and tooke Mr Tradescant with me." The six witches were hanged, accused of bewitching nine children, a man and a woman and £500 worth of cattle lost and corn at sea by witchcraft.'

Or account of his relationshp with otherwise puritan ministers who nevertheless had a perchant for 'sorcery'. Mrs John Pordage, whom he was amazed to see 'Clothed all in white Lawne, from the crown of the head to the sole of the Foot, and a white rod in her hand. She was hailing as a prophetess by those dancing country dances about her 'making strange noises". Explaining that they were rejoicing because they had 'overcome the Devil.' Dr Pordage then appeared 'all in black velvet' and pressed everyone to join in.'

or even the more intimate touches of Ashmole's struggles to find a wife or love or was it both? It's difficult to see whether his failures were down to a lack of good looks or the necessary finances : 'I dreamt in the morning that I put my hand into Mrs Marche's placket (slip) and then to her next petticoat and then to her third and then to her smock, and then pulled it up, and with very little struggling felt her bare cun(?) - well who hasn't had a dream like that??

This is a lively picture of the times. I could have had more information on the magical work but I learnt a hell of a lot from this densely illustrated and well made book. If you've an interest in the times then buy it. - mogg

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Legend of the Witches (Review)

Written and Directed by Malcolm Leigh
Produced by Negus-Fancey
Edited by Judith Smith
Lighting Cameraman: Robert Webb
Border Film Production (London) Ltd
Year: 1969
Featuring: Alex and Maxine Sanders and their beautiful coven.
Format: DVD

‘In the beginning was the Moon, Diana. Her lover was the Dawn, Lucifer - God of Light. They created man, and built the monuments, which tracked their paths across the skies. Now man could predict the movements of the Gods, he sought to control them, through priests and ritual…’

Originally X-rated, this newly released DVD, is a real period piece this, documenting the beliefs and practices of Alex Sanders and the circle of witches, which under his leadership, electrified the popular imagination and attracted many into the Wiccan path.

The film's leisurely pace requires the modern viewer to make some adjustment to their viewing habits. Nevertheless this is a minor masterpiece and really manages to tell one of witchcraft's many 'stories'. We've perhaps become a little too knowing to accept all of the certainties of 1960s Wicca - but nevertheless we can all agree, that this 'warts and all' view, really does capture the spirit of the time. It's a beautiful film, shot I think in 16mm black and white, which lends it a very artistic feel, reminding me most of the experimental films of Maya Deren or indeed UK classics of 'socialist realism' such as 'Night Mail', the 1936 movie by John Grierson, with music by Benjamin Britten.

The documentary begins with lovely sweeping shots of seascapes and ancient, elemental landscapes over which the film's narrator begins his tale of the ancient witch mythology, of the Goddess Diana and her consort Lucifer, the sun. Now whether or not one buys into this spirited mythology, we have strayed into controversy almost immediately. Who amongst the current glut of media witches even dares to mention that name - Lucifer?

Almost half the film explores these ideas, covering issues such the mysteries of earth energy, altered states, the pagan traces that survive in pre-reformation churches, the persecutions and the rebirth of the old religion. It's foundation myth, easy to sneer at, but strangely wonderful just the same.

Seamlessly, the film now deliverers us into the hands of a modern coven. We see them perform a variety of rites. First, an outdoor initiation. The candidate, referred to throughout as Michael, not because that's his real name but presumably because of the ancient folk myth of 'crazy man Michael', Britain's very own 'holy fool'. The priestess repeatedly calls 'Michael' to various encounters with elemental forces, the whole rite done at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, itself a place of power, just a stone's thrown from Lindow Moss, where in Iron Age times, other, darker rites were done by our pagan ancestors.

Now the action moves into the temple, after some exploration of the many cursing exhibits, still to be seen at the Boscastle's Witchcraft Museum, we are prepared for the notion that witches sometimes curse. The coven, prepare such a curse, using the traditional and extremely ancient technique, in which a poppet is given life through the agency of Alex and Maxine's act of sexual magick - fascinating stuff.

We even get to see something seldom alluded to these days - the so-called 'Black Mass.' completed with a very lifelike 'sign of Osiris slain' - . These witches, known these days as Alexandrians, do not see such as mass as any form of inversion of Christian principles. They knew something that we have all perhaps forgotten - there is no impervable barrier between primitive Christianity and classical paganism. It was around this time that Professor Morton Smith wrote his groundbreaking book Jesus the Magician. The 'Black Mass' is only 'black to the blind' - it is in fact a celebration of life in all is bounty.

The film concludes with a nod to the future, when the special powers of the witch will be understood more in terms of the newish science of ESP and indeed the 1960s first forays into the psychedelic, encounter groups and other techniques of obsession and transcendence. Of course some in the new millennial will find this all too embarrassing and bad for business - but what do they know? Who are then the true successors to Alex Sanders and the witches of the 1960s? If they were still here I'd say the Temple ov Psychic Youth would be a likely contender. The film will outrage some but inspire others to take up where they left off after a generation or more of stoney sleep. Buy this and be refreshed. - Mogg Morgan