Popular Occulture Write-Up

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HBW 6 At Sixes and Sevens

It was great to get to Glasgow and see Jay! And of course to attend the Popular Occulture in Britain, 1875-1967 workshop, which touched upon many of my interests and current projects. See the full schedule with bios of the presenters here. This is just some quick notes on things that I want to remember: if you want me to expand, just ask.

“Eco-Feminism and the Neo-Pagan Movement”
Dennis Denisoff (University of Tulsa)

This gave me so much to seek out. Well aware of Moina Mathers, but new to me William Sharpe‘s pseudonym Fiona McLeod and Vernon Lee/Violet Paget. I really need to investigate Lee’s essays.

“Lucifer the Liberator: Satanism as a Feminist Strategy in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes (1926)”
Per Faxneld (Södertörn University)

Lolly Willowes shows up in the latest Hard-Boiled Witch (out next Friday!) because I read the book for the first time last summer and knew I needed to do more with her. Faxneld made a convincing argument for Warner’s renovation of Satan as an asexual figure and satanism for Lolly as the language of resistance and a kind of queer liberation (not doing justice to the presentation: I hope it’s published soon).

“Occultists’ Engagement with the First World War: Theosophy, Thought Power, and War Tactics”
Owen Davies (University of Hertfordshire)

Naturally Davies would be of interest to me: if you’ve not picked up his comprehensive book on Grimoires, you need to do so. This was a dense and detailed talk and I can’t possibly do it justice, but the distance between assumptions and actual evidence of people use and attitudes toward the supernatural during the war are very different from what one might expect.

“Aleister Crowley and Political Propaganda”
Henrik Bogdan (University of Gothenburg)

Not being a big fan of Crowley (though I swiped and anagramised his name for HBW5 too), I had no idea about his war time shenanigans in the US working for a German propaganda magazine. He thought he was using them (especially their literary mag) to get his occult theories out there but it required him being a collaborationist or as the post-war assessment of his activities had it, ‘a small time traitor.’

“Deceitful Media and Deceitful Mediums”
Simone Natale (Loughborough University)

If you’ve read White Rabbit you know how this topic interests me. Fascinating to see how controversy got manipulated both by the exposers and the exposees, from the famed Italian medium Eusapia Palladino to the debunker Hugo Münsterberg, who even wrote on films as manipulative. As your electronic PA if they believe in ghosts (“Siri, do you believe…’)

“From ‘Word Magic’ to Basic English: Language Reform and Magical Thinking in the Interwar Period”
Leigh Wilson (University of Westminster)

I’m still mulling this one over but it was fascinating. I’ve avoided Finnegans Wake in the way I used to avoid Beowulf, yet I’m beginning to wonder if that too has been a mistake:

For if the lingo gasped between kicksheets, however basically English, were to be preached from the mouths of wickerchurchwardens and metaphysicians in the row and advokaatoes, allvoyous, demivoyelles, languoaths, lesbiels, dentelles, gutterhowls and furtz, where would their practice be…


Visit to the Alchemical and Occult Collections at the University of Glasgow Special Collections: worth the price of admission (okay, it was free but –) so here’s the book porn you’ve been waiting for: