Making Magic Respectable

Like many folks here, I am greatly enjoying Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s a terrific fantasy series: I can’t tell you how well it adapts Susanna Clarke’s novel as I haven’t read it yet (so many books, so many of them to write!) but the author seems pleased. The next episode appears to focus on Arabella Strange (Charlotte Riley) so it ought to be very interesting indeed.

Norrell’s obsession, if you don’t know, is to bring back English magic and make it ‘respectable’ (the contrast to his aims has been embodied by the street magician Vinculus, played with great vigour by Paul Kaye). Of course a big part of my interest in the show has been to see how they portray magic, given my own interests in the history of magic.

Even among medievalists, magic has only slowly become a ‘respectable’ sort of topic. Tolkien was one of the first scholars to insist that the fantastic elements in Beowulf were as worthy of study as the linguistic, where dull people had insisted its only charms lay. Societas Magica has done much to bring respectability to the study, following the fascinating history from earliest antiquity up to the present and sharing syllabuses from many different courses. They haven’t quite got Picatrix on everyone’s lips, but they’re working on it.

I’ll be teaching a course on women and witchcraft this autumn. It will be interesting to see what expectations the students bring. One of the aspects of that history we’ll be looking at is how magic moved from being a humble practise to becoming a formal art. I suppose in some ways you could compare it to famous big name chefs taking over simple peasant dishes. Simple charms to protect travelers, reduce illness or restore a field (things I write about in Rook Chant) are very different from the elaborate rituals that learned clerics used to summon demons. But in the late Middle Ages, these two very different strands became intertwined — and by the early Modern era they exploded in the infamous witch hunts.

I write about some of this practical magic in my History Witch column; perhaps I should share some examples here. Just to be respectable.

Rook Chant at Amazon UK

While You Were Out

blue sky eggOr I suppose, while I was out and about in the Big Easy with Miss Wendy and other folks (yes, write up to come) I neglected my blog. So a hasty round up while I get caught up —

Hector D Jr interviewed me for Sliver of Stone magazine and I natter on about all manner of silliness and William Blake because I seem not to be able to avoid mentioning him whenever I am asked about living the creative life. And in the same issue, a great interview by Hector with Mr B. We all met up at the Crime conference in Poland, so no surprise. If we can’t hang out in person, we’ll do so virtually because it’s always a pleasure. Oh and this Friday I’m interviewed on the Speculative Fiction Cantina. You can listen live and call in with questions.

My alter ego Graham Wynd has a new story out in Near to the Knuckle’s new crime anthology ROGUE, “Bonkers in Phoenix” which is of course a title stolen from a Fall song. Crude, rude and lewd! Also very funny if you don’t mind those other things. I’m almost thinking the story might go on from where it ends. You tell me. Pick it up at Amazon — and you will because it’s also got folks like Mr. B, Godwin, Tess Makovesky and more. Graham has been busy: Ham on Heels, Toy Monkey and 30 Versions of Warm Leatherette still getting hits over that fabulous Pulp Metal Magazine. Yes, I am writing too, but mostly non-fiction at the moment (and revising).

I’m not sure why I never seem to remember to add my History Witch pieces here. I’ve got a review of a cool grimoire, Rún that I got from Strandagaldur (The Museum Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft). Also there’s a musical version of An Anglo Saxon Chant and a bit about mud and spring in Solmōnaþ, which finally seems appropriate.

Somewhat disconcertingly, I keep hearing my name on the radio as they’re advertising the talk I’m doing Saturday on Kurt Vonnegut quite a bit. So now I’m thinking ‘gosh, better polish this really well!’ I’ve been re-reading Player Piano and rediscovering the novel all over again.

DREAM BOOK is almost here…!


Mediations on Hávamál 10-14

Rook Chant Cover

Byrði betri
berr-at maðr brautu at
en sé mannvit mikit;
auði betra
þykkir þat í ókunnum stað;
slíkt er válaðs vera.

Byrði betri
berr-at maðr brautu at
en sé mannvit mikit;
vegnest verra
vegr-a hann velli at
en sé ofdrykkja öls.

Er-a svá gótt
sem gótt kveða
öl alda sona,
því at færa veit,
er fleira drekkr
síns til geðs gumi.

Óminnishegri heitir
sá er yfir ölðrum þrumir,
hann stelr geði guma;
þess fugls fjöðrum
ek fjötraðr vark
í garði Gunnlaðar.

Ölr ek varð,
varð ofrölvi
at ins fróða Fjalars;
því er ölðr bazt,
at aftr of heimtir
hverr sitt geð gumi….

My latest piece on this gnomic poem from Old Norse is up; I took a little break over the holidays that continued a little too long. Finally finished the latest installment today because I had an inadvertent holiday from classes: seems the shuttle to Albany from Hudson doesn’t run on state holidays because most of the people who use it are state workers.


Tomorrow I should have a ‘new’ car, which is to say an old car with one previous owner (an FBI agent!) who maintained it well. Not pretty but practical and — I hope! — reliable. We shall see. Country life is a bit difficult without wheels.


The New England Chapter of Broad Universe is holding a special contest for 2013 – a scavenger hunt!

We have a brochure/game card listing the 15 participating BU members. Readers/participants try to collect signatures during 2013 from as many as the authors possible in order to be entered into a raffle for $50, $75, or $100 gift certificate to the book retailer of the winner’s choice. Details here.