An interdisciplinary group of researchers at the University of Exeter explores topics related to the history of magic, occult, and esoteric literatures using a ground-breaking approach by studying many different cultures and languages all in dialogue with one another. This blog will help publicise the University of Exeter as a leading location for the study of these previously neglected subjects which are rapidly growing in importance among scholars and students today. Topics of research include but are not limited to witchcraft, Western Esotericism, Occult texts in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, European folklore, magic in Greece and Rome, and the history of science and medicine.
“FOUR OF SWORDS, in collaboration with THE WELLCOME TRUST, EXETER UNIVERSITY and the NATIONAL TRUST, is honoured and proud to announce a brand new show for Autumn and Winter 2019!
DOCTOR DRACULA is another immersive theatre production, drawing on a variety of sources and examining how the symbolic role of blood connects with a cutting edge, medical understanding of blood in the 21st century.
This is a little different from our previous shows. It is not a straight adaptation of the Dracula story. Instead, story vignettes from classic vampire stories will draw the audience back-and-forth through time. Medieval blood-letting and grave-robbing will be contrasted with experiments in parabiosis, blood transfusion, and autovampirism. Misunderstood blood conditions such as haemochromatosis and haemophilia will be highlighted. The show will be playful and irreverent, but also scary, unsettling and deadly serious!”
The four centuries of the Roman imperial period saw massive shifts in all aspects of life for people across the Mediterranean and northern Europe, including in the ways in which they communicated with the supernatural, as it fostered unprecedented movements of people, objects and ideas. Much work has been done on how these changes affected the beliefs and practices conventionally called religion, but there is plenty of scope for exploring those that both modern scholars and the ancients themselves recognised as magical.
Materials and materiality mattered, but sensory experiences and emotional responses were also important components of Roman magical practice and were integral to the successful and efficacious completion of ritual action. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling were key elements of the ‘doing’ and, in reality, there can be little separation between these concepts if we are to have a holistic understanding and engagement with this part of life in the ancient world.
It is the objective of this conference to develop these ideas and to take them further, into the theoretical fields of sensory and emotional archaeologies in order to help modern scholars to understand the relationships between people, objects, and magical rituals. The physical, emotional, and intellectual sensorium of the ancient world is difficult to access, but recent research has begun to provide toolkits and approaches which may be applied to the study of Roman magic.
The burgeoning field of sensory studies in antiquity has provided fertile ground for discussion and has greatly advanced our understanding of life in the Roman world, and emotional archaeologies may help to advance our understanding of emotional effects of ritual practices. Approaching magical practices in these contexts and/or theoretically focused ways can reveal more of the lived experience of the individuals who performed them in their daily lives but can also illuminate broader questions on the nature of a particular society as it changed over space and time.
The study of ‘magic’ in the ancient has long suffered from scholarly disagreements regarding semantics and, subsequently, definitions of this term. Following on from the framework set out in McKie and Parker (2018) we opt not to provide a single, rigid definition of magic for our contributors and participants to use; we wish to encourage a multi-disciplinary conversation informed, perhaps, by multi-disciplinary understandings of magic. We will, however, expect contributors to be broadly aware of these issues and have reflected on this debate.
We would like this conference to reflect as diverse a range of backgrounds and experiences as possible: in professional terms, we welcome contributions from archaeologists, academics and ECRs, post-graduates, museum professionals, classicists and historians.
We would welcome papers on the following topics:
Sensory components of magical rituals (not necessarily limited to the classic five senses).
The emotional effects of practicing magic.
The interactions between human bodies and physical objects in magical rituals.
Issues of ephemerality, temporality, and/or seasonality in sensory or emotional approaches.
Experimental and reconstructive approaches to ancient magic.
Organisers: Stuart McKie (Durham University) and Adam Parker (Open University).
Please submit abstracts (300 words max) to Stuart McKie () and Adam Parker () by 30th November 2019.
Over the past couple of years, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has been devoting attention to the academic study of magic and the occult, most visible in the launch of their Journal, The Enquiring Eye, with the goal to revive the Witchcraft Research Centre that its founder, Cecil Williamson, envisioned the Museum to be.
This September has seen the launch of the Equinox Colloquium, the Museum’s second conference, now accompanying the Annual Conference in Spring.
As the title suggests, the Colloquium covered the Autumnal Equinox (handily falling on the weekend between of the 19th to the 22nd) with research papers, two dramatic performances and a folklore walk. It was a cosy affair and what it lacked in numbers it made up amply in enthusiasm. Speakers from across the UK and from as far afield as California and Queensland have presented on the topic of Accusations and Persecution.
(click image for programme)
The Colloquium coincided with the start of the Banned Books Week, and was chosen by the American Library Association as one of the featured events on their website. To highlight the importance of freedom of speech and the long term stigma associated with books of magic, the Museum staff have created a reading list from banned esoteric texts and invited speakers at the Colloquium to read some excerpts. These readings will be available on the Museum website, released daily during the week.
This series of readings, titled ‘Banned Books at Bedtime’, starts with the talk by Dr Thomas Waters, the keynote speaker at the Colloquium. His presentation of the history of cursed books highlights the worrying shift from historical book curses being employed to protect the texts against theft and misuse to the modern understanding of ‘cursed books’ as a label leading to censure.
On the topic of books, the Colloquium provided the platform for the launch of Dr Waters’ book, Cursed Britain, which he touches upon in his presentation. Furthermore, the event hosted a comprehensive range of texts from Troy Books, a publisher chiefly involved with esoteric and folklore material.
The mix of academic research, dramatic narration of the experience of the accusers and accused (one of the plays explored the Pendle Witches case), involved discussion in the cosy Long Bar and bracing walks along the Boscastle cliffs have made the conference a memorable affair and, hopefully, a staple fixture in the Museum’s calendar.
The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter wishes to recruit a Postdoctoral Research Fellow to participate in “A Sorcerer’s Handbook: Medieval Arabic Magic in Context,” awarded to Dr Emily Selove. This Leverhulme Trust funded post is available 01/11/2019. The successful applicant will transcribe and create draft translations of manuscripts of Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s Arabic grimoire, write scholarly articles about this subject, and aid the PI in editing a co-authored volume of essays about Sakkākī’s work.
Kitāb al-Shāmil (The Book of the Complete) is a technical manual containing a mixed collection of magical recipes and rituals. It includes instructions for creating talismans, for controlling jinn and devils, for causing sickness, for curing such magically-caused afflictions, and for calling upon the power of each of the planets. The power of God and phrases from the Qur’an are frequently invoked, but the texts in this collection claim to originate from famous Greek thinkers like Ptolemy and Hippocrates. Such Arabic texts concerned with astrological matters as well as the hidden properties of objects in the natural world were influential on European literary and scientific traditions. The translation of the title as The Book of the Complete is informed by a reading of the compiler’s introduction, which refers to the “perfect” scholars of the ancient world on which it purports to base its information, hence, “The book of the Perfect/Complete person”; it is possible that the title is a play on the similarly-titled 11th century book of magic al-Shāmil fī al-baḥr al-kāmil (Complete book of the Perfect Sea) by al-Ṭabasī.
Previous research on Sakkākī tends to centre on his influential book on language, Miftāḥ al-‘ulūm (The Key to the Sciences), often ignoring his reputation as a magician. Nevertheless, early biographical literature indeed credited him with the power to, for example, strike cranes down in mid flight with a magical inscription. Both Sakkākī’s linguistic and magical interests show his fascination with the power of language, and these interests will inform the literary style of translation of Sakkākī’s mysterious grimoire.
The recently published Routledge History of Medieval Magic (January 2019) brought together the work of scholars from across Europe and North America to provide extensive insights into recent developments in the study of medieval magic between c.1100 and c.1500. The book covers a wide range of topics, including the magical texts which circulated in medieval Europe, the attitudes of intellectuals and churchmen to magic, the ways in which magic intersected with other aspects of medieval culture, and the early witch trials of the fifteenth century. In doing so, it offers the reader a detailed look at the impact that magic had within medieval society, such as its relationship to gender roles, natural philosophy, and courtly culture. This is furthered by the book’s interdisciplinary approach, containing chapters dedicated to archaeology, literature, music, and visual culture, as well as texts and manuscripts. This workshop brings together nine contributors to The Routledge History of Medieval Magic to discuss how research on this subject could develop in the future, highlighting under-explored subjects, unpublished sources, and new approaches to the topic. We begin with a keynote paper by Marilyn Corrie, and end with three responses to the book from Jennifer Farrell, John Sabapathy and Bill Maclehose followed by a wine reception.
An Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies exhibition
9 May – 2 August 2019
Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies
This exhibition explores a mystery which also constitutes a unique moment in the history of art. In the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, new forms of painting emerged on and around buildings in cities and towns across north Africa. They were identifiably related to existing cultural forms – especially tattoos , textiles and jewellery – but their sudden appearance in the form of murals and frescoes was unprecedented….
They took existing aesthetic and spiritual amuletic forms which were designed to safeguard individual bodies and homes, extending their scope into the collective, public sphere so as to save communities of believers across cities and the world. While such work was produced anonymously we can be sure that it was made by women, who had long held special aesthetic-religious responsibilities in north Africa. Protective art made by women was imbued with unique force in both Muslim and Jewish communities, and amongst Berbers, Tuaregs and Arabs. While their paintings may have long since faded (or been erased), what we might now learn from the artists of the city and their forgotten works?
ON MONDAY, 29 APRIL 2019 AT 7 P.M. COVENTRY CATHEDRAL, CHAPEL OF CHRIST THE SERVANT
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the twin city relationship between Coventry and Dresden, the Dresden State Art Collections and the City of Dresden invite you warmly to the opening of an exhibition in the Coventry Cathedral