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Woodcuts of Witches, Wizards and Devils

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Well, here’s something you don’t see every day in real life: Witches with animal heads flying on broomsticks. Fuck. Why did all the good stuff happen before iPhones were around to capture it….? Or, is it just strange, nay fantastically unbelievable, that witches with animal heads ever flew around on broomsticks?

Now, once upon a time, long, long ago in a land not so very far from here, people actually did believe in witches and warlocks and wizards and animal hybrids flying with broomsticks through the devil-dark night. It was a form of mental aberration that infected the whole of Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries.

This dreadful fear of witches began with a couple of Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, who together wrote a barmy treatise on witchcraft called Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) in 1486. This book reinvented witchcraft and the devil as something more than just “delusions,” as had once been believed, into something solid, active, real, and very, very dangerous. Unsurprisingly, it was a bestseller for some 200 years.

According to the Malleus Maleficarum the world was literally hoaching with witches and the only way to defeat them was by the worst kind of torture and execution. This treatise received Pope Innocent VIII’s blessing. He had already given Kramer a Papal Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus in 1484 which approved his “inquisition” into all reports and suspicions of witchcraft. This Papal Bull was included in the Malleus Maleficarum as part of the book’s preface, which meant that misogyny was not only acceptable but actively encouraged.

And so it began two centuries of terror and torture and mass stupidity.
 
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The great thing about witchcraft is that anyone could be accused of it. The accuser never had to prove the veracity of their statement. The accused always had to prove their innocence. But this usually meant forfeiting their lives. You see, innocence was often proven by use of a variation of the ducking stool—a device once used for scolds and prostitutes—whereby a woman believed to be a witch would be tied to a rope and thrown into a river or a pond. If the woman sank and drowned—then she was innocent. Hurrah! If she floated and lived, well hell, she’s a witch and must be burnt at the stake.

Usually, it never came to this, as most women ‘fessed up after hours or days of relentless torture and were then executed. Oftentimes, these women would name their accusers (or others they didn’t like) as also being witches and in league with the devil. And so it went, more and more women were questioned, tortured, and executed.

Stupidity does not discriminate—which explains why the hysteria over witchcraft was surprisingly flamed by the rise in literacy. The mass publication of pamphlets, news sheets, and books saw a great demand for stories “true” and fictional about witches and witchcraft. These stories were exceedingly popular and were spread in posters across the land like a virus. In every village and town, these reports on the occult would be read aloud wherever they were posted. The literate read the stories. The illiterate spread the tales word-of-mouth. The most potent part of these documents were the woodcuts which depicted the women (and some men) who were in league with the Devil and using witchcraft to spread his nasty ill-will throughout the land.

One of the earliest of these illustrated pamphlets was A Rehearsall both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile, alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Deuell, Mother Margaret, Fower Notorious Witches first published in 1579. This booklet told the story of Elizabeth Stile, a 65-year-old widow and beggar who was accused of witchcraft and cavorting with three other witches Mother Margaret, Mother Dutten and Mother Devell, and a man called Father Rosimunde, who could (allegedly) transform himself “into the shape and likenesse of any beaste whatsoever he will.” Nice trick. Bet he never had to buy a round at the local inn.

It wasn’t just the lowly peasantry or working class who believed in such stories but the very highest members of the establishment. The first king to unify the nations of England and Scotland as King James I wrote a treatise on witchcraft Daemonologie based on his own personal involvement in the infamous North Berwick witch trials of 1590. King James believed that most women were “detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchanters” and he personally took part in the interrogation of those accused of witchcraft.

Many of these women were just dear old ladies who had lost their husbands or were destitute and had become victims to the unwelcome focus of a someone’s ire. As Jon Crabb notes on the Publlic Domain Review, it was from such poor women came the image of the “old crone” which was then promoted through books like The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, Daughters of Joan Flower neere Beuer Castle (1619), A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch (1643) and The History of Witches and Wizards: Giving a True Account of All Their Tryals in England, Scotland, Sweedland, France, and New England (1700). It is this image of a witch as depicted in woodcuts that is still the most prevalent depiction of a witch used today.
 
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An early though hugely influential depiction of a witch from ‘A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch’ (1643).
 
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Witches cooking up trouble.
 
More weird and wonderful woodcuts of witches and alike, after the jump….

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.09.2017
10:46 am
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Witches plan mass hexing of Donald Trump tomorrow night outside Trump Tower


 
The so-called Wiccan “Rule of Three” (also called the “Three-fold Law” or “Law of Return”) is a moral code held by many witches. Karma is another word that (more or less) covers the same general territory. The energy that you “put out there”—whether good or ill—will return to you three times stronger. It’s not something that’s really a dogma among Pagans, but more of an admonition, or warning to neophytes, that there is a reward—or punishment—in harmony with the magic you work and the intent behind it.

Spit in the wind and it comes back to hit you in the face. What goes around, comes around. Treat others as you would like to be treated and someone is less likely to turn punching your fucking Nazi face into a popular meme.

Tomorrow night, February 24th, starting at one minute to midnight and going on for six minutes until 12:05 AM, a group of witches will perform a binding spell on Donald Trump and those who enable him outside of Trump Tower, or wherever they happen to be:

Join the largest mass binding spell in history as participants around the world, individually and in groups, focus their consciousness to prevent Donald Trump from doing harm.

 

 
An unflattering picture of the babbling orange idiot who knows the nuclear codes and a candle are all it takes to participate. The event’s Facebook page is here. If you can’t be at Trump Tower at the appointed time, face east and let ‘er rip… Some helpful instructions can be found here. Facebook event page here.

Fuck it. Sometimes you just have to exorcise the Pentagon, folks…
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.23.2017
02:52 pm
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Vincent Price teaches the dark arts on his 1969 album ‘An Adventure in Demonology’
09.25.2015
10:49 am
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Black Sabbath shared a manager with an explicitly Satanic band called Black Widow, and some people had a hard time keeping the two straight, or pretended they did. Nick Tosches’ crazed review of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid mixed up Ozzy and Black Widow’s singer Kip Trevor, who does not, in fact, sound like “Keith Relf whining about the tampons stuck up his nostrils.”

I mention this because I’d never heard of Vincent Price’s nearly 90-minute-long occult crash course Witchcraft-Magic: An Adventure In Demonology before I read an interview with Black Widow’s Clive Jones in the book Black Sabbath FAQ. Talking about the popularity of horror movies in the late 60s, Jones went on a tangent about his relationship with Price:

Vincent Price gave me… because he was on CBS, whenever he released an album, he gave me an album, which I still use to this day, of him talking about black magic and the war, and how black magic was used for good causes, as well as worshiping the devil type stuff.

 

 
As soon as I read those words, I made haste to Discogs to track this sucker down. Look, I don’t know what your idea of a good time is, but when it is the witching hour, and the autumnal equinox, and everyone is making ready for the festival of Samhain, and like that, fun for me means settling down with a hot mug of tannis root tea and an hour and a half of Vincent Price talking demonology, accompanied by spooky sounds from a 1969 synthesizer. From the bewitching intro:

Do you believe in witches and magic? [Chuckles] I hope so, because it can be unwise not to. Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in luck? Do you believe in premonitions—being somewhere where you know you’ve been before, although you know you’ve never been there? Do you believe in dreams and the unseen forces of astrology? Do you believe that there is order and genius in the hundred thousand million galaxies similar to our own? Do you believe that the life of our bodies is the beginning and end, or do you believe in reincarnation? Perhaps in heaven and in hell? Do you believe in prophecy and poltergeists? Heh? Do you?

Yes, you see, the universe is populated with spirits: unseen forces which permeate all things, both tangible and intangible, both visible and invisible. Things we see and things we don’t, things we know or think we know and things we know nothing of: the natural and the supernatural. So come with me into the magic world of the supernatural—the world of witches and demons, warlocks and sorcerers, oracles and seers, alchemists and wizards—into the unfathomable world of the unknown, the world of the spirits and unseen forces that guide our destiny. They are everywhere. Let’s turn down the lights and throw another log on the fire.

Original pressings of Witchcraft-Magic apparently included a booklet called (gulp) “The Hand of Glory,” and one wonders who put so much research and care into this set. The album’s script, which traces the history of witchcraft through the Bible, the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and Nazi Germany before turning to practical instruction in the dark arts (see side three, track three, “How to Make a Pact with the Devil”), is the work of a mysterious figure named Terry d’Oberoff, whose only other credit appears on the 1970 debut of an LA soul group called—wait for it—Black Magic.

Below, hear a needle drop of the whole double LP. If you’d like to hear more wailing of damned souls and less surface noise, Amazon has it on MP3 for $4.99.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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09.25.2015
10:49 am
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The Devil and his Servants: Demonic illustrations from 18th century occult book
06.11.2015
10:21 am
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I had a friend who liked to collect occult illustrations from the earliest woodcuts of witches sabbats to hand-painted plates of winged demons. My friend did not see these pictures as telling a history of the occult, but rather a luminous narrative of the imagination’s power to invent monsters.

Similarly fabulous creatures can be found in the illustrations to the Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros, a rare book on the occult dating from 1775 which is held by the Wellcome Library. The volume is written in a mixture of German and Latin and contains 31 water-color illustrations of the Devil and his demonic servants together with three pages of magic and occult ritualistic symbols.

With the warning “NOLI ME TANGERE” (“Do Not Touch”) on its cover, the compendium can be seen as a last attempt by those of faith to instil fear among the superstitious. After all, the Compendium Artis Magicae was produced during the decade of revolutions (American and French) and in the Age of Enlightenment—when reason, science and the power of the individual dominated, and the first stirrings of industry were about to change Europe and the world. The horrendous witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries were long banished and the last execution in England for witchcraft took place in 1716 (1727 in Scotland, 1750 in Austria, 1782 in Switzerland), while the practise of witchcraft ceased to be a criminal offense across Europe during the century (England 1735)—all of which makes this Compendium Artis Magicae all the more bizarre.

The illustrations are a mix of Greco-Roman mythical monsters (chimeras such as Cerberus and Hydra), Phoenician gods (Astarte/Astaroth) biblical devils (Beelzebub, Satan), while some look as though they were inspired by witnessing the slaughter of men and beasts on European battlefields.

The claim that the book originated in 1075 has been dismissed, and the whole volume has been scanned on Hi-Res and can be viewed in detail at the Wellcome Library.
 
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More nightmarish demons, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.11.2015
10:21 am
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Norway’s monument to 91 ‘witches’ killed nearly 400 years ago
05.04.2015
04:18 pm
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Just like New England in 1692-1693, the little town of Vardø, located far north of the Arctic circle, in the extreme northeastern part of Norway—it’s actually much closer to Russia than it is to Sweden, which is unusual for a Norwegian town—experienced a witch crisis all its own in the 17th century. The witch trials ended up affecting an unusually high percentage of the local townspeople—the entire county of Finnmark had a population of 3,000 people, but 135 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, 91 of whom were executed. As in Salem, the method of “pond dunking” was used:
 

it was often part of the process to include “trial by water”—the result being seen as “God’s will”. Those accused were bound hand and foot and thrown into the water. If the person floated, it was sign of their guilt. If they sank, they were innocent. During the Vardø witch trials, all those that were subjected to “trial by water” floated—thus guilty in the eyes of God.

 
In 2011 a memorial for the victims of the witch trials was erected and unveiled by the Queen of Norway. The designers of the memorial were two highly esteemed artists, Peter Zumthor of Switzerland and Louise Bourgeois, born in France but active in the United States. The memorial, known as the Steilneset Memorial, is located next to what is believed to be the execution site of many of the 91 victims.

The memorial consists of two parts, a long hallway suspended near the beach, Zumthor’s “Memory Hall,” a long cross-hatched frame containing a corridor with 91 lamps, each one illuminates a window and a plaque that tells the story of the men and women killed with testimony from their trials. That is connected to the Bourgeois contribution, a black box made of glass with a constantly burning chair in the middle, with mirrors suspended above it. This part is called, “The Damned, The Possessed, and The Beloved.”

Of the artists’ process, Zumthor has said, “I had my idea, I sent it to her, she liked it, and she came up with her idea, reacted to my idea, then I offered to abandon my idea and to do only hers, and she said, ‘No, please stay.’ So, the result is really about two things—there is a line, which is mine, and a dot, which is hers…. Louise’s installation is more about the burning and the aggression, and my installation is more about the life and the emotions [of the victims].”

 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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05.04.2015
04:18 pm
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‘Doorways to Danger’: Christian occult scare film warns of gateways to Satanism
12.29.2014
09:22 am
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Doorways to Danger is a 1990 British short film warning of the risks in flirting with the occult. Here’s the description from the Amazon listing:

Dabbling in the occult is widespread and often thought of as harmless entertainment. But this video shows why it is dangerous to get involved with spiritism, fortune telling, witchcraft, magic, and Satanism. The program introduces the real life stories of those who have been involved in these activities and shows the way out based upon a Biblical perspective.

A description also opens the video, and what comes next is pure gold: A cheesy montage of occult images with a song poem-esque number underneath warning of the hazards of looking up your horoscope and fooling around with a ouija board. And we’re off!

The anecdotal evidence that follows—offered up by supposed experts and decidedly non-experts alike—often seems scripted and/or total B.S., and the “slippery slope” examples given as gateways to full on devil worship (playing Dungeons and Dragons; watching Ghostbusters II!) are a hoot-and-a-half. One of the highlights is the segment with the band Heartbeat (“one of Britain’s top Christian groups”), who we get to see recording and then have an obviously rehearsed conversation about occult dabbling. The late ‘80s fashions they’re sporting will also surely induce a chuckle or two (and dig those hairdos!).

The video was produced by an organization calling itself the “Christian Response to the Occult.” Forming in 1982 by the Deo Gloria Trust, “to give a Christian answer to the inroads that occultism was making into society at that time,” the group later merged with the existing and ideologically similar, Reachout Trust.

Here’s Tom Poulson, the director of the CRO and the man behind Doorways to Danger:

We have a divine commission both to warn and inform our friends, family and neighbours that there is an enemy of God, actively engaged in both blinding them to and drawing them away from Jesus. We neither want to shout ‘FIRE!’ so loudly that people rush towards it, nor remain silent and see people receive life-endangering burns from their involvement with the occult.

Indeed, no one actually shouts “FIRE!” in Doorways to Danger, but to say that believing in things like “bad luck” could lead you into the arms of Satan comes pretty damn close.
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear
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12.29.2014
09:22 am
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Helen Duncan: The strange tale of Britain’s last Witch
04.01.2014
11:44 am
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In 1944, a Scottish medium called Helen Duncan became the last person to be prosecuted under the archaic Witchcraft Act of 1735. Duncan was a popular medium, who held seances across Britain during the 1930s and 1940s, and claimed she had incredible paranormal skills, these were often proved to be fake. For example, she said was able to produce ectoplasm, but when photographed and examined, this turned out to be regurgitated muslin cloth; she also claimed she could make spirits appear when under a trance, but these “spirits” proved to be nothing more than a sheet of cheesecloth with a cut-out picture from a movie magazine. Yet such was Helen’s charismatic appeal that she attracted many devoted followers and fans, including the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who believed Duncan had powerful psychic abilities.

Her psychic “talents” came to the notice of the Royal Navy after Helen claimed she saw an apparition of a dead sailor from the sunk ship HMS Barham, during a seance in Southampton. She said the dead sailor claimed his ship had been sunk with the loss of all life on board. As this was during the Second World War, official announcements about any sunk British vessel were held back so as not to damage morale. Duncan claimed she knew it HMS Barham as she had seen the ship’s name in the band of the dead sailor’s hat.
 
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Ms. Duncan and her less than convincing ectoplasm.
 
Though this all sounds deliciously spooky, it is rather unlikely, as the names of ships were no longer written on sailor hats, and more importantly, the family members of all the ship’s crew had been notified of the loss of life, meaning the news of HMS Barham’s sinking was known locally in Southampton amongst a few families but not nationally. However, the Navy were so concerned that Helen Duncan may have been operating as a German spy that they kept tabs on her and her paranormal activities.

This eventually led to Duncan’s prosecution under the Witchcraft Act, and her incarceration for nine months in prison. At her trial, the respected historian and high-ranking Freemason, Alfred Dodd testified to Duncan’s authenticity. It was also known that Churchill took a personal interest in the case and questioned the use of the Witchcraft Act to prosecute Duncan. During the trial, the judge forbade Duncan from proving her psychic abilities in court—how she intended this is not quite clear. However, the resulting conviction and imprisonment seemed overly harsh for a woman who was considered to be fraudulent and no real security threat. If only Scooby-Doo had been around back then, eh?

Followers of Helen Duncan have consistently maintained her authenticity, and long after her death in 1956, she continues to hold considerable sway over those with an interest in the paranormal.

The following documentaries investigate Duncan’s claims to psychic powers and the events surrounding her trial. Each takes a different approach, from the supportive and personal, to the objective and scientific.
 

 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.01.2014
11:44 am
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