Tuesday, November 5, 2013

1400 – 1780 CE: Adventures in the Otherworld, Part One.

“Still, it can hardly be denied that Ginzburg was onto something. The specific scheme he reconstructed, the journey to the realm of the dead, may have relied on suspect and arbitrary connections across cultures and across millennia. But other scholars, more cautious, are finding material of value in this type of evidence. Deep folkloric beliefs or mythic structures mattered to the way in which the common folk conceptualised witchcraft. There is no need to emulate Ginzburg’s plunge into the archaic past; early modern evidence exists and calls for explanation. What it indicates is that people had relationships with other worlds and other beings that did not necessarily derive from orthodox Christianity. This is inherently probable.

And if so, it is probable for Scotland. Scottish peasants were not provincial; they had a cosmopolitan culture, fully accessible to this deep folkloric material. Orpheus was important to Ginzburg, and Scottish peasants sang Orpheus ballads – in a distinct version in which Eurydice was carried off by
fairies, and Orpheus rescued her successfully...”
— Julian Goodare,
Scottish Witchcraft in its European Context. (From Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland, edited by Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin and Joyce Miller. P. 31)
Behind the Madness

This series of blog entries – which may very well take a few months to finish – is about fairies, devils and demons, and witches and magicians between the late medieval period and the early modern period. It is also about the blurred understanding regarding the nature of these spirits that took place as various factions destroyed the traditional groundwork and understanding of such subjects and became increasingly intolerant of both each other and the interlopers that they found in their midst and quite often subsequently put to death.

This series will act to set-up what comments I eventually will have on “
Pacts with the Devil” – by establishing a context for the popular outlook on such practices – as well as several other subjects that tie in to the over-arching themes established within this context. Appearing as “companion” entries of a sort to the series will be a few blog entries entitled “Treasure Magic Errata Trivia,” which will focus less on spirits and practitioners and more on other subjects (like the Hazel wand and its affinity with the Dowsing Rod).

Additionally, these entries will also include a hefty focus on folktales, ballads, and medieval romances which provided aspects of cultural understanding that fueled practitioners of popular magic as well as Elite” or learned practitioners. For the most part, these will be contrasted with witchcraft trials with
one exception: this entry. I greatly enjoyed reading the Ballad of King Orfeo recently, but have no awareness of popular magical practitioners using it to fuel their own practice. It is quite possible that I will later come across such information, but at present I simply like the ballad and so it will form the end of this entry.

Fairies, Devils, Angels & Ghosts
The Fairy Queen by Marjorie Cameron.
“The grass-roots association between fairies and the Devil was also, from a Christian perspective, rather ambiguous. In orthodox theological terms the name 'devil' denoted a purely malevolent spirit who was either the Devil himself or a demon in his service. On a popular level, however, the term was less morally specific. In 1677 a Scottish clergmany refers to a type of fairy familiar whom 'the vulgar call white deviles, which possibly have neither so much power nor malice as the black ones have, which served our great grandfathers under the names of Brouny, and Robin Goodfellow, and, to this day, make dayly service to severals in quality of familiars.'” (P. 17)

“Some contemporary descriptions of fairy familiars make them sound stereotypically demonic. Kirk claimed that 'they are ever readiest to go on hurtfull earands, but seldom will be Messengers of great good to men' and Robert Burton that 'Terrestrial devils are those Lares, Genii, Faunes, Satyrs, Wood-nymphs, Foliots, Fairies, Robin Goodfellowes, Trolli, &c. which as they are most conversant with men, so they do them most harm.'” (P. 76)
- Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits.

The situation in Europe leading up to the Protestant Reformation, and directly preceding it, involved intense distrust of any spirits which could not be proven to be angelic in nature. While the antique inheritance of Europe prior to these periods of time involved any number and division of spirits – ranging from the Nymphs, Gods, and ghosts – the Elite authorities of Europe began formulating purely “demonic” outlooks with regards to these subjects, and lumping together spirits that in antiquity would have been seen as “benign” with the “demons” of Christian theology and found within the Bible. This motivation was increased as the Crusades brought magical texts back to Europe, and the formulation of magical practices caught the attention and imagination of the European elite.

As early as the 13th century, but especially in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Inquisition began encountering heretics in their own midst who were engaging in magical practices that they did not approve of. Following the onset of the Protestant Reformation, these tensions only increased. The Protestant reformers drew off the texts and outlooks formulated by the Catholic Elite authorities such as Nider, Sprenger and Kramer, while also promoting their own unique views which retrofitted Catholic theological perspectives in to an explicitly demonic format. “Popish blasphemies” were of great concern to such individuals as King James (known both as King James the Fourth in Scotland, and after his ascenion to the thrones of England and Scotland as James the First), as were the spirits that populated the Orthodox Catholic world. This allowed both factions to declare either side “witches” or “heretics” and put them to death.

It also, one should note, had a hefty impact on both popular culture and popular magical practices. In his excellent paper entitled
From Sorcery to Witchcraft, Michael D. Bailey outlines how the Inquisition began to widen their search for heretics, they began to encounter practitioners of folk magic who they confused with the Elite practitioners of Necromancy that festered within the Church:
Gui also instructed that suspects should be asked what they might know or may have learned about “thieves to be imprisoned” and about “discovering thefts committed or disclosing secrets.” After healing and warding off disease, the discovery of theft and the subsequent divination of the guilty party, or simply the location of a lost item if no theft was involved, were among the standard uses of common magic. Love magic and spells and charms designed to produce affection (or discord) or to aid in conception were also among the standard elements of the common tradition, and Gui included questions about “concord or discord between husbands and wives; [and] also causing the sterile to conceive.” The evidence that most clearly indicates that the inquisitors and judges for whom Gui was writing were dealing with common sorcery,* however, is the passage referring to the implements and devices by which that magic was worked. Gui instructed that inquisitors should ask about “these things which they [the sorcerers] give to be eaten, hair and nails and certain other things,” and about “making incantations or conjuring through incantations, with fruits and herbs, with girdles and other materials.” Here we see the sort of everyday items typically used in common spells and charms, not the costly rings and polished mirrors of ritual demonic magic that Pope John feared. Only at the end of this section did Gui briefly mention baptized images of wax and images of lead and various other devices, which might seem more the tools of learned necromancers schooled in church ritual.”
Similar outlooks occurred in the British Isles as well, with King James' Demonologie providing theological justifications for the destruction of witches, as well as declaring that certain spirits which had been dealt with on the Isles and commonly believed in to be, themselves, demonic. A prime example of this factor is ghosts, which James took aim at in the second book of Demonologie:

Epistemon: […] This we finde by experience in this Ile to be true. For as we know, moe Ghostes and spirites were seene, nor tongue can tell, in the time of blinde Papistrie in these Countries, where now by the contrarie, a man shall scarcely all his time here once of such things. And yet were these vnlawfull artes farre rarer at that time: and neuer were so much harde of, nor so rife as they are now.”

“What should be the cause of that?”

“The diuerse nature of our sinnes procures at the Iustice of God, diuerse sortes of punishments answering thereunto. And therefore as in the time of Papistrie, our fathers erring grosselie, & through ignorance, that mist of errours ouershaddowed the Deuill to walke the more familiarlie amongst them: And as it were by barnelie and affraying terroures, to mocke and accuse their barnelie erroures. By the contrarie, we now being sounde of Religion, and in our life rebelling to our profession, God iustlie by that sinne of rebellion, as Samuel calleth it, accuseth our life so wilfullie fighting against our profession.”

Philomathes:Since yee are entred now to speake of the appearing of spirites: I would be glad to heare your opinion in that matter. For manie denies that anie such spirites can appeare in these daies as I haue said.”

Epistemon: Doubtleslie who denyeth the power of the Deuill, woulde likewise denie the power of God, if they could for shame. For since the Deuill is the verie contrarie opposite to God, there can be no better way to know God, then by the contrarie; as by the ones power (though a creature) to admire the power of the great Creator: by the falshood of the one to considder the trueth of the other, by the injustice of the one, to considder the Iustice of the other: And by the cruelty of the one, to considder the mercifulnesse of the other: And so foorth in all the rest of the essence of God, and qualities of the Deuill. But I feare indeede, there be ouer many Sadduces in this worlde, that denies all kindes of spirites: For convicting of whose errour, there is cause inough if there were no more, that God should permit at sometimes spirits visiblie to kyith.”

Here we see the formation of an Elite theory with ramifications that extended well into the English and Scottish witch trials: even if one thought they were encountering the ghost of a dead man, a fairy, or most other “visible spirits” (including, in some cases, angels!), they were being deceived by the power of the devil. Furthermore, even if they thought that they were conjuring a spirit by the Power of the Almighty, they were still being played with by the Devil and were thus suspect as heretics.

This put the Elite who sought out witches at odd with local practitioners, because it created a new justification for the destruction of those who didn't fit within the narrow parameters Protestant faith within the British Isles. Belief in all manner of spirits was caused by the “errors of the Catholics,” which allowed the devil and demons to adopt the guise of many other spirits, and thus lead mankind astray. (This, by the way, is what I mean when I suggest that on the whole the witch-trials represent a conflict between opposing factions following the Reformation.) There is a bit of humor in this outlook, as the spirits occasionally dealt with by accused witches – such Bessie Dunlop's ghostly fairly familiar Tom Reid – seemed to prefer that Catholicism, with its worldview rife with Saints, the ghosts of unbaptised children, and its many Angels out to come back:
16. [Being] asked what she thought of the new law [the Reformed Religion] , [she] answered that she had spoken with Tom bout that matter but Tom [had] answered that this new law was not good and that the old faith should come home again but not such as it was before. [Being] asked if ever she had been in [a] suspect place with Tom, or had carnal dealings with him, [she] declared - not upon her salvation and condemnation, but [that] once he took her by the apron and would have had her go with him to Elfame.”
- Edinbough Assize records regarding the Trial of Bessie Dunlop. (From Emma Wilby's Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, P. viii.)

In part, some of the trials in the British Isles are rendered obscure by such outlooks; it is unclear, in plenty of cases, what sort've spirit the accused may or may not have been dealing with, even when they admitted or confessed to such relations. The case of Bessie Dunlop is sufficient to express this factor: her “fairy familiar” was the ghost of a man who had died at the Battle of Pinkie, named Tom Reid. Of the errands that Reid requested of Dunlop in the context of their mutual alliance, one was to visit his still living relatives and to deliver a message to them.

As will be seen, this blurring extends far beyond a single trial. The trial of Andrew Man (“Andro Man”) from Aberdeenshire – to be covered in subsequent entries alongside the tales of Thomas the Rhymer – shows similar ambiguity. Man claimed to have become the consort of the Queen of the Elves, and that his master was an “Angel” (occasionally also referred to as “the Devil”) named Christonday, God's Godson. It is interesting to note that the name “Christonday” shows up in another Scottish trial from Aberdeenshire, suggesting that the name may have had local folklore in the area that both “witches” came from. Nonetheless, there is not evidence at present I am aware of to support this suggestion.

That these trials occurred, given the background information supplied earlier, is hardly surprising. It is even less surprising when one takes into account the learned perspective of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, who writes in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy:
There is moreover as hath been above said, a certain kind of spirits not so noxious, but most neer to men, so that they are even affected with humane passions, and many of these delight in mans society, and willingly dwell with them: Some of them dote upon women, some upon children, some are delighted in the company of divers domestick and wild animals, some inhabit Woods and Parks, some dwell about fountains and meadows. So the Fairies, and hobgoblins inhabit Champian fields; the Naiades fountains: the Potamides Rivers; the Nymphs marshes, and ponds: the Oreades mountains; the Humedes Meadows; the Dryades and Hamadryades the Woods, which also Satyrs and Sylvani inhabit, the same also take delight in trees and brakes, as do the Naptæ, and Agaptæ in flowers; the Dodonæ in Acorns; the Paleæ and Feniliæ in fodder and the Country. He therefore that will call upon them, may easily doe it in the places where their abode is, by alluring them with sweet fumes, with pleasant sounds, and by such instruments as are made of the guts of certain animals and peculiar wood, adding songs, verses, inchantments sutable [enchantments suitable] to it, and that which is especially to be observed in this, the singleness of the wit, innocency of the mind, a firm credulity, and constant silence; wherefore they do often meet children, women, and poor and mean men.
With a few notable exceptions – like the trial of accused the “necromancer” and “Satanist” Richard Graham – many of the trials to be discussed in future entries will involve Agrippa's “poor and mean men” (and, of course, women) and the springboard by which they drew inspiration for their own practices.

Orfeo in Scotland: The Orpheus Who Didn't Fail.

As said before, this ballad does not tie in with the above theme terribly well. I am hoping that by drawing attention to it, I shall eventually stumble onto a trial that explicitly involves themes in the Folk Ballad of King Orfeo (whether due to the mention by others, or through sheer “coincidence”).

Regardless, what follows is the Ballad of King Orfeo. It shares a number of similar things with Sir Orfeo, a narrative poem dated between the 13th and 14th centuries. As in Sir Orfeo, Orpheus is actually able to win her back from the King of the Fairies. While the Underworld of classical antiquity could be entered by the still living and heroic if they knew the way, it was normally only Gods and demigods who seem to have “won souls back” from the Otherworld (such as when Dionysos rescues his mother, Semele, from Hades). In these variants of the Orpheus tale, elements of the story of Tam Lin (which also shares common elements with the tales of Thomas the Rhymer) supercede classical myth and reshape the story. The edict “not to look back” is not imposed upon Orpheus, and thus his anxiety and subsequent failing do not lead to both losing his wife until his death, and his profound melancholy that stirs the Maenads** to destroy the body of the man while in a state of frenzy. Subsequently, his head is separated from his body and beside his lethe floats down the Hebrus singing mournful songs.

There is a heavily fragmented version on Sacred Texts, which is worth flashing:

“DER lived a king inta da aste,
Scowan ürla grün
Der lived a lady in da wast.
Whar giorten han grün oarlac

Dis king he has a huntin gaen,
He’s left his Lady Isabel alane.
‘Oh I wis ye’d never gaen away,
For at your hame is d’ol an wae.
‘For da king o Ferrie we his daert,
Has pierced your lady to da hert.’

* * *

And aifter dem da king has gaen,
But whan he cam it was a grey stane.
Dan he took oot his pipes ta play,
Bit sair his hert wi d’ol an wae.
And first he played da notes o noy,
An dan he played da notes o joy.
An dan he played da g’od gabber reel,
Dat meicht ha made a sick hert hale.

* * *

‘Noo come ye in inta wir ha,
An come ye in among wis a’.’
Now he’s gaen in inta der ha,
An he’s gaen in among dem a’.
Dan he took out his pipes to play,
Bit sair his hert wi d’ol an wae.
An first he played da notes o noy,
An dan he played da notes o joy.
An dan he played da g’od gabber reel,
Dat meicht ha made a sick hert hale.
‘Noo tell to us what ye will hae:
What sall we gie you for your play?
‘What I will hae I will you tell,
An dat’s me Lady Isabel.’
‘Yees tak your lady, an yees gaeng hame,
An yees be king ower a’ your ain.’
He’s taen his lady, an he’s gaen hame,
An noo he’s king ower a’ his ain.”
However, given some may be unable to interpret the above: he following version of the Ballad of King Orfeo has been taken from Andrew Calhoun, who has even recorded the modernized version of the Ballad:
“There was a King lived in the East
Green the wood grows early
Who loved a lady in the West
Where the hart runs yearly.
This king he to the West did ride
And he brought home a comely bride
This king is to the hunting gone
He left his lady all alone.

“Oh, I wish ye'd never gone away,
For your hall is filled with woe today.
The king o' Faerie with his dart
Has pierced your lady to the heart.”

The King then called his nobles all
To guard her corpse within the hall
But when the lords all fell asleep
Her corpse out of the house did sweep.

The king is to the wildwood gone
Till he with hair was overgrown.

When he had sat for seven years
A company to him drew near
Some did ride and some did run
He spied his lady them among.

There stood a hall upon a hill
When they entered, all was still
And after them the king has gone
But when he came, t'was a grey stone.

There came a boy out of the hall
“Ye're bidden come in among us all.”
The king did enter in the hall
And he went in among them all.

And first he played the notes o' noy
And then he played the notes' o' joy
And then he played a merry reel
That might have made a sick heart heal.

Then he took out his pipes to play
For his poor heart did pine away
And first he played the notes o' noy
And then he played the notes o' joy.

And then he played a merry reel
That might have made a sick heart heal
The king of faerie then did say
“What shall we give thee for thy play?”
“For my play I will thee tell
I'll have my lady Isabel.”
"Thy sister's son, unworthy thing
Tomorrow shall be crowned king.

“Ye take your lady and go home
And ye shall be king o'er all your own.”
He took his lady and went home
And now he's king o'er all his own.
What can I say? As much as I love the myth of Orpheus, I rather like this fairy-laden version and his subsequent success.

Be seeing you,

[EDIT]/PS: I would like to wish Sannion luck with his latest endeavor. If he ends up pursuing the last of his goals - the drunken and mad death cult - I wouldn't mind being part of a thing. Hahahahaha.

* Italix mine, for emphasis.


Phil said...

Dear Jack,

This was a brilliant post (and excellent blog in general - I'd never heard of it until now!). It also relates to some of my own obsessions: treasure guardians and English folk ballads. I love that you have also picked up on the quote from Agrippa's Occult Philosophy. I have also briefly referenced it in a recent conference presentation:

- and I have in progress a longer version of this paper for publication, which discusses the translation of the Agrippa passage in more detail, as well as connecting it with other European lore regarding fairies, tutelar beings and spirit offerings.

I've also performed King Orfeo live often, at the local folk club and with my bands The Institute of Stone Age Sex: https://soundcloud.com/phil-legard/institute-of-stone-age-sex

and Xenis Emputae Travelling Band (at the end of this recording):

Really look forward to reading the forthcoming posts!



Lance Foster said...

Thanks Jack. Yep, that quote from Agrippa is one of my favorites as well. BTW, I collected some bits and pieces on such things, here: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/tag/genius%20loci

Jack Faust said...

Mr. Legard: I'm glad you dropped by! Thanks for the links! I'm enjoying your paper at the moment very much!

Lance: Oh, awesome!

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