William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard
Inner Traditions, 9781594772115, 398 pp., 2008
Reading William Blake one cannot help but realize this is a man who is both religious and spiritually active, especially his poems known as the prophecies. The question is what was the nature of his spiritual life? What inspired Blake to create works that are both heavily Christian and at the same time antagonistic to many Christian ideals? The surprising answer is laid out as Schuchard leads us back into the complex religious web of mystical Christianity of the 17th and 18th century.
No clear, singular document exists that explains Blake’s religious life and upbringing, so Schuchard researched and wrote this text as a “reconstruction of the lost religious history of the family of William Blake.” This area is rarely investigated, and considering how bizarre and complicated a picture Schuchard paints it’s not surprising that “sensible academic critics have cautiously refrained from taking the plunge” into this counter-religious culture. Continue reading
Magic Without Mirrors: The Making of a Magician, by David Conway
Logios, 9781463761724,336 pp., 2011
For a large number of individuals of a certain age, Magic: An Occult Primer was the introduction to the world of magick. At the time there wasn’t a whole lot of information about the author available. In the intervening years The Magic of Herbs and Secret Wisdom: The Occult Universe Explored were also produced by the same author, but without (to my knowledge) as much acceptance and fanfare.
This book is essentially Conway’s autobiography. It is filled with amusing anecdotes and enlightening background information. It also contains snippets of magickal information as well, though that is not its primary purpose. Continue reading
The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices, by Claude Lecouteux, translated by Jon E. Graham
Inner Traditions, 1620551055, 227 pp. (incl. index and eight pages of colour plates), 2013
Ever since his first book, Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages in 1992, I’ve quite enjoyed Claude Lecouteux’s work.
Claude Lecouteux is a French historian specialising in the Middle Ages and its understanding of the spiritual world, the chair of German civilization and Literature of the Middle Ages, and a professor emeritus, at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices was initially published in French in 2000 as La Maison et ses Génies: Croyances d’Hier et d’Aujourd’hui. Personally, I find the French title more apt, since it more clearly describes the content, but that’s a fairly minor quibble on my part. In the original French, this was Lecouteux’s fifth book published. However the English translation are being published in a different order, and this is the seventh book released in English.
The first part of the book begins with the actual house, while the second part of the book turns to the spirits themselves. This is followed by a brief exploration of the notion of haunted houses, and a few appendixes about proverbs associated with household spirits and a few other odds and ends. Continue reading
The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations, by Claude Lecouteux
Editions Imago, Inner Traditions, 9781594774652, 246 pp., 2007, 2012
Claude Lecouteux offers an exhaustively researched history of poltergeist activity and hauntings from the middle ages to today. Packed full of case histories and general information, The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses is an essential addition to the library of any serious ghost hunter or paranormal enthusiast. Lecouteux maintains an evidential viewpoint, balancing skepticism with the inevitable conclusion that, like it or not, poltergeist phenomenon is real.
One particular gem is a chart that compares the views of different eras regarding “Poltergeists due to the presence of living beings.” In the Pagan Middle Ages, this activity was mostly attributed to the dead, genies, and spirits. During the Christian Middle Ages, attribution was given to the devil, demons, and the dead. In post-Medieval times (16th-17th centuries), witchcraft and hoaxes were usually to blame, and of late, paranormal researchers attribute the phenomena to the dead or people with psychic abilities. With regard to the difference between spirits and the ghosts, Lecouteux writes: Continue reading
Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 978-0-19-959004-9, 380 pp., 2009
I need to acknowledge right now that I am not a ceremonial magician, but then again, this book is written for people like me. This is not a compilation of grimoires, nor is it a distillation of those books. It is a broad overview of magick books and books about magick (which are not necessarily the same thing). There is a fairly thorough discussion of the suppression of magick books, which makes it abundantly clear that, although most of us think in terms of the Christian church’s efforts in this respect, Christianity was a “Johnny come lately” to that game. There had been suppressions long before the beginning of the Common Era.
This type of book often falls into one of two categories. It is either heavily influenced by pop culture, or it is full of erudite, academic attitudes which leave you grabbing your dictionary as you read. This book walks the middle ground quite nicely. It answers questions with easily understood words, and saves the inevitable citations for the end of the book.
One thing which modern readers often forget when reading about the grimoires of the past is that simply because two (or more) books had the same name did not mean they had they same content, especially in a time when the books in circulation were manuscripts, as opposed to printed volumes. Religious scholars has this brought home to them with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library where there were numerous books with identical names and widely varying contents. Grimoires were, generally, perceived as having more power if they were handwritten (magicians would make handwritten copies of books which they had in their library to impart more power to them). What this means is that even those grimoires which have survived in printed form may only be one version of numerous ones which circulated during the Renaissance and later periods. Continue reading