Wednesday, 29 July 2015

CFP: "The Supernatural in the Peripheries: Britain and Ireland" at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland

I’ve been asked to share this call for papers for an upcoming conference to be held at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, which will be on the subject of “The Supernatural in the Peripheries: Britain and Ireland”. It looks set to be an interesting event, and for those who would like to take part, abstracts need to be submitted by 24th August 2015 to The conference itself is to be held not long after, on Friday 18th September 2015. Organised by Cara Hanley and Jodie Shevlin, the keynote speaker will be Professor Richard Jenkins of the University of Sheffield.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The "Magic and Supernatural in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods" Conference: My Reflections

I’ve just returned from a week in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, where on Tuesday 21st July I attended a one-day academic conference on the subject of “Magic and the Supernatural in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods”. Held at Cardiff University, the event was organised by the postgraduate researchers Mark Truesdale, Martha Baldon, Alison Harthill, and Darren Freebury-Jones, who together span the fields of history and literature studies. This sold out event was a wonderful opportunity for scholars and other interested persons from all over the UK – and indeed beyond – to get together and hear about some of the latest research in these interconnected fields. Given the large number of papers being presented at the conference, dual sessions were held, meaning that I was only able to see just under half of all the speakers. Unfortunately that means that here I will not be able to make reference to every paper presented, but hope that there might be other attendees who could also publish their reflections of the event, thus providing a more rounded picture of it for those who, although interested, could not be in attendance.

The conference was held at Cardiff's Sir Martin Evans Building.
Image by Seth Wales, from Wikipedia.
The conference kicked off with a keynote talk from Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol, an eminent historian and specialist in the Early Modern period who has also published seminal work on the history of modern Pagan Witchcraft (and for those of you who haven’t seen it, Professor Hutton kindly gave an interview for Albion Calling last year). Titled “The Western Magical Tradition”, Hutton took us back to the place of magic and witchcraft in the ancient Near Eastern societies of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Hittites, before discussing the distinction between magic and religion held to in the Greco-Roman world and the ways in which these historic approaches and sources impacted on European views of magic into the Early Modern period. This is partly based on research for a forthcoming book which I look forward to tremendously.

Next up was “Panel I: Folk and Learned Magic”, chaired by Tom George, which opened with my paper on “The Anglo-Saxon Cunning Woman: New Perspectives from History and Archaeology”, which was based in large part on my earlier master’s thesis. I was concerned that the presentation of the paper might have come across as a little rushed (after all, it is difficult to fit all that information into a twenty-minute slot!) but it certainly seemed to pique the interest of various attendees and many people told me that they had found it to be both enjoyable and interesting, which was a relief. I was followed by Dr. Debbie Lea of INTO Manchester with her paper on “Sieves, Shears and a Swallow” in which she discussed the activities of several cunning folk in Early Modern Lancashire (and surprisingly enough, neither Dr Lee nor any of those who asked her questions mentioned Lancashire's famous Pendle Witches).  Rounding off this section was Cardiff’s own Alison Harthill with “To Obtain a Horse: Necromancy and Fantasy” in which she looked at the place of fantasy in Early Modern grimoires, bringing up the interesting and innovative comparison between the ways in which such books of magic may have been read and the ways in which comic books are often read today.

Baldung's Hexen, a woodcut of 1508.
Chaired by Mark Truesdale, “Panel IV: Philosophy and Spirituality” kicked off with Jonathan Jancsary of the University of Innsbruck on “Dreams and Imagination as First Insights into the Spiritual Spheres”, an examination of the role of dreams in the ideas of Medieval Arab philosopher-come-Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi. Jancsary was then followed by Clare Fitzpatrick of Birkbeck, University of London who examined the ideas regarding an immortal soul that were expounded in the writings of Early Modern philosopher and Christian apologist Henry More in her paper on “Apparitions of the Dead, Visions, Monstrous Births and Other “Extraordinary and Miraculous” Phenomena”. Panel VI, “Body and Medicine”, was chaired by Michael Fulton and opened with Cat Stiles of the University of Bristol on “Popular Magic: The Anglo-Saxon Charms and the Line Between Magic, Medicine and Religion”. Moving from the Early Medieval and into the Early Modern, we then had Nailya Shamgunova of the University of Cambridge providing a paper on “An Unnatural Sin? The Concept of Nature in Anglophone Discourse in South East Asia in the 17th Century”, the focus of which was on John Bulwer and the way in which he (erroneously) interpreted penis rings as a means of preventing sodomy among the indigenous peoples of Thailand. Although not fitting so neatly into the “Magic and the Supernatural” theme of the conference as other papers, it was still a fascinating talk and one of my favourite contributions to the day.

Panel VIII was chaired by Isabelle Valade and titled “Witches and Place”. It opened with Warwick University’s Paula McBride on “Magic and Witchcraft in the Early Modern Midlands” and involved a discussion of her exciting first-hand research into the Early Modern witch trials of that English region. From there we moved our attention to Spain with Birkbeck’s Sander Berg on “Witches and Watermelons: Attitudes to Magic in Spanish Golden Age Literature”, in which he focused on the appearance of sorcery in the work of María de Zayas. The day was then rounded off with a fascinating plenary paper by Dr Darren Oldridge of the University of Worcester on the place of fairies – among them imps, hobgoblins, and Robin Goodfellow – in the Early Modern imagination.

A big part of the importance of this event was that it brought together historians, archaeologists (or at least this archaeologist), scholars of literature, and scholars of philosophy, all of whom were united by their thematic fascination for magic and the supernatural in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Covering not only the witch trials of the Early Modern, which have long been one of the only respectable ways for historians of this period to study magical beliefs, it also included contributions on the practices of folk magic, folkloric beliefs in supernatural entities, alchemy, and learned esoteric and philosophical beliefs regarding supernatural phenomena. It was thus a great space to learn about each other’s research, although because the question-and-answer sessions were quite brief there wasn’t the opportunity to engage in in-depth group discussions, as for instance I experienced at last year’s “New Antiquities” conference at the Free University of Berlin. It was nevertheless an incredibly interesting and well organised event, and I met a lot of interesting people who I hope to see again at similar events in future. Events such as these are a very important space for the advancement of scholarship, both in terms of exchanging ideas and mentally recognising that those of us who study such "eccentric" fields are not alone. For that, the organisers and contributors have my thanks and my congratulations at putting on such a great event.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Upcoming conference at Cardiff University: "Magic and the Supernatural in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods"

I know that I haven’t blogged on here in a while (I’ve been super, super busy with a variety of projects), but I just wanted to advertise a conference that is being held on Tuesday 21st July at Cardiff University on the subject of “Magic and the Supernatural in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods”. I will be in attendance to present a paper on the subject of “The Anglo-Saxon “Cunning Woman” ? New Perspectives from Archaeology and History”, which is based in large part on research that I conducted for my master’s degree a few years ago. It looks set to be a great conference, with keynote speeches from eminent historians of magic and witchcraft Darren Oldridge and Ronald Hutton (who provided an interview for this blog last year). For the benefit of those who won't be able to make it, I'll aim to produce a summary of the conference at some point next week. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

CFP: "The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947", an edited volume

I'm just sharing this call for papers which is currently doing the rounds on academic list serves and social media. It looks like an interesting proposed volume, and hopefully some of my readers will consider it to be a project that they might like to contribute to:

The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947
(Edited Collection)
Dr Christine Ferguson and Dr Andrew Radford, University of Glasgow

We seek proposals for an essay collection entitled The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947, to be proposed to Ashgate’s new Among the Victorians and the Modernists series. Focusing on the development, popular diffusion, and international networks of British occulture between 1875-1947, the interdisciplinary volume will capitalize on the recent surge of scholarly interest in the late Victorian occult revival by tracing the development of its central and residual manifestations through the fin de siècle and two world wars. We aim to challenge the polarization of Victorian and modernist occult art and practice into discrete expressions of either a nostalgic reaction to the crisis of faith or a radical desire for the new. The collection will also map the affinities between popular and elite varieties of occultism in this period, recognizing the degree to which esoteric activities and texts relied on and borrowed from the exoteric sphere.
At the heart of this volume is a flexible understanding of ‘occulture’, which the editors use to signal an understanding of the occult as a system of cultural networks or webs of associations and influences rather than as a monolithic set of beliefs or practices. The collections takes as its historical parameters the 1875 founding of the Theosophical Society by H.P. Blavatsky and H.S. Olcott and the 1947 death of countercultural occultist and notorious “Great Beast” Aleister Crowley. While we welcome proposals on major occult figures, cultural texts, organizations, and phenomena in this period, we are also particularly keen to receive proposals on lesser-known examples of the period’s occult engagement. Possible topics might include, but are by no means limited to:
Occultism as /in Popular Culture
• Modernism and Occult Aesthetics
• Women’s occult networks: Evelyn Underhill, Dion Fortune, Anna Kingsford, Emma Hardinge Britten, Annie Besant, Florence Farr, Annie Horniman, and Others
• Performing the Occult on Stage, Screen, and Everyday Life
• Occultism and/as Counterculture
• Geographies of British Occultism: from the Celtic Fringe to the Far East
• The Occult Public Sphere: Periodicals and the Occult
• Making a Modern Occult Canon: Isis Unveiled and after
• Occultists as Celebrities and Fictional Characters
• Eco-Occultism
• Occult Historiographies: Imagining Occult Pasts and Futures
• Occultism and War
• The Occult Object: Tarot cards, ritual articles, costumes, manuscripts, scrolls, photographs, and ornaments
• The Occult and the Professional Sciences
Please send an abstract (300-500 words) and a brief biography (100 words) to and by June 1, 2015. Final essays should be 6,000-7,000 words in length and will be due for submission in August 2016. Contributors may include up to 2 images in their articles, but they are responsible for obtaining and paying for high quality jpegs and any permissions.

Friday, 8 May 2015

New Publication: Book Review of Anders Andren's "Tracing Old Norse Cosmology"

Just as I had opened this working week with the announcement that Nova Religio had published one of my book reviews, so I must close it by pointing out that another of my reviews has been published in Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture (vol. 8, no. 2). The review in question is devoted to a 2014 book by archaeologist Anders Andrén titled Tracing Old Norse Cosmology: The World Tree, Middle Earth, and the Sun in Archaeological Perspectives. Many of my readers might also be interested to know that this same issue of Time and Mind also contains a book review authored by Ronald Hutton (whom I interviewed here back in July 2014) and a research article on the potential shamanistic elements within Minoan cult co-written by Caroline J. Tully (who was interviewed here even further back, in January 2013). For those who aren't subscribers to this thought-provoking journal, check out this new edition over at the Taylor & Francis website.

Monday, 4 May 2015

New Book Review: Douglas Ezzy's "Sex, Death and Witchcraft"

Just a quick note to say that in the latest volume of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions (vol. 18, no. 4), I have a brief book review, in which I look at the Australian sociologist of religion Douglas Ezzy's recent publication on Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival. Those with access to JSTOR can download a copy here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

New book review: Bogdan and Djurdjevik's "Occultism in a Global Perspective" in Nova Religio

The latest volume of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions has just been released, and inside you will find a book review that I authored several months ago. The review is devoted to Occultism in a Global Perspective, an edited volume put together by Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevik. For those of you with access to JSTOR, download a copy here.