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Astrology and Authority in the Late Medieval Crown of Aragon
Astrology in the Middle Ages was considered a branch of the magical arts, one informed by Jewish and Muslim scientific knowledge in Muslim Spain. As such it was deeply troubling to some Church authorities. Using the stars and planets to divine the future ran counter to the orthodox Christian notion that human beings have free will, and some clerical authorities argued that it almost certainly entailed the summoning of spiritual forces considered diabolical. We know that occult beliefs and practices became widespread in the later Middle Ages, but there is much about the phenomenon that we do not understand. For instance, how deeply did occult beliefs penetrate courtly culture and what exactly did those in positions of power hope to gain by interacting with the occult? In A Kingdom of Stargazers, Michael A. Ryan examines the interest in astrology in the Iberian kingdom of Aragon, where ideas about magic and the occult were deeply intertwined with notions of power, authority, and providence.
Ryan focuses on the reigns of Pere III (1336-1387) and his sons Joan I (1387-1395) and Martí I (1395-1410). Pere and Joan spent lavish amounts of money on astrological writings, and astrologers held great sway within their courts. When Martí I took the throne, however, he was determined to purge Joan's courtiers and return to religious orthodoxy. As Ryan shows, the appeal of astrology to those in power was clear: predicting the future through divination was a valuable tool for addressing the extraordinary problems-political, religious, demographic-plaguing Europe in the fourteenth century. Meanwhile, the kings' contemporaries within the noble, ecclesiastical, and mercantile elite had their own reasons for wanting to know what the future held, but their engagement with the occult was directly related to the amount of power and authority the monarch exhibited and applied. A Kingdom of Stargazers joins a growing body of scholarship that explores the mixing of religious and magical ideas in the late Middle Ages.
Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France
At a fascinating moment in French intellectual history, an interest in matters occult was not equivalent to a rejection of scientific thought; participants in séances and magic rituals were seekers after experimental data as well as spiritual truth. A young astronomy student wrote of his quest: "I am not in the presence or under the influence of any evil spirit: I study Spiritism as I study mathematics." He did not see himself as an ecstatic visionary but rather as a sober observer. For him, the darkened room of occult practice was as much laboratory as church.
In an evocative history of alternative religious practices in France in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, John Warne Monroe tells the interconnected stories of three movements-Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism. Adherents of these groups, Monroe reveals, attempted to "modernize" faith by providing empirical support for metaphysical concepts. Instead of trusting theological speculation about the nature of the soul, these believers attempted to gather tangible evidence through Mesmeric experiments, séances, and ceremonial magic. While few French people were active Mesmerists, Spiritists, or Occultists, large segments of the educated general public were familiar with these movements and often regarded them as fascinating expressions of the "modern condition," a notable contrast to the Catholicism and secular materialism that prevailed in their culture.
Featuring eerie spirit photographs, amusing Daumier lithographs, and a posthumous autograph from Voltaire, as well as extensive documentary evidence, Laboratories of Faith gives readers a sense of what being in a séance or a secret-society ritual might actually have felt like and why these feelings attracted participants. While they never achieved the transformation of human consciousness for which they strove, these thinkers and believers nevertheless pioneered a way of "being religious" that has become an enduring part of the Western cultural vocabulary.
Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures
For centuries, eyewitnesses around the world—from America to Africa, Argentina to Scotland—have reported sightings of dark, mysterious creatures in area lakes that surface briefly, only to quickly disappear. While the most famous lake monsters of Loch Ness and Lake Champlain have gained international notoriety, hundreds of lakes around the world are said to shelter these shadowy creatures. Lake Monster Mysteries is the first book to examine these widespread mysteries from a scientific perspective. By using exhaustive research and results from firsthand investigations to help separate truth from myth, the authors foster our understanding of what really lurks in the cold, murky depths. Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell are considered to be among the top lake monster authorities in the world. Here they share unique insights into many of the world’s best-known lake monsters. They interview witnesses and local experts and discuss the different types of lake monster sightings, delve into possible explanations for those sightings, and examine hoaxes, evidence claims, and legends surrounding the monsters. The authors have also conducted groundbreaking fieldwork and experiments at the lakes and have examined recent photographic and sonar evidence. Incorporating newly-revealed information and up-to-date developments in the cases they present, professional monster hunters Radford and Nickell plunge into both the cultural histories of these creatures and the scientific inquiries that may hold the key to these mysteries.
The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture
Despite their centuries-old history and traditions, witchcraft and magic are still very much a part of modern Anglo-American culture. In Lucifer Ascending, Bill Ellis looks at modern practices that are universally defined as "occult," from commonplace habits such as carrying a rabbit's foot for good luck or using a Ouija board, to more esoteric traditions, such as the use of spell books. In particular, Ellis shows how the occult has been a common element in youth culture for hundreds of years.
Using materials from little known publications and archives, Lucifer Ascending details the true social function of individuals' dabbling with the occult. In his survey of what Ellis terms "vernacular occultism," the author is poised on a middle ground between a skeptical point of view that defines belief in witchcraft and Satan as irrational and an interpretation of witchcraft as an underground religion opposing Christianity. Lucifer Ascending examines the occult not as an alternative to religion but rather as a means for ordinary people to participate directly in the mythic realm.
Vol. 1 (2006) through current issue
A peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft draws from a broad spectrum of perspectives, methods, and disciplines, offering the widest possible geographical scope and chronological range, from prehistory to the modern era and from the Old World to the New. In addition to original research, the journal includes book reviews, editorials, and lists of newly published work.
Modern Occultism in Late Imperial Russia traces the history of occult thought and practice from its origins in private salons to its popularity in turn-of-the-century mass culture. In lucid prose, Julia Mannherz examines the ferocious public debates of the 1870s on higher dimensional mathematics and the workings of séance phenomena, discusses the world of cheap instruction manuals and popular occult journals, and looks at haunted houses, which brought together the rural settings and the urban masses that obsessed over them. In addition, Mannherz looks at reactions of Russian Orthodox theologians to the occult.
Mysticism is condemned as often as it is praised. Much of the condemnation comes from mysticism’s apparent disregard of morality and ethics. For mystics, the experience of “union” transcends all moral concern. In this careful examination of the works of such practitioners or examiners of mysticism as Paul Tillich, Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill, and Martin Buber, the author posits a spectrum of uneasy relationships between mysticism and morality. Horne explores the polarities of apophatic (imageless) and imaginative mysticism, the contemplative and the active life, and morality and amorality. He stresses the importance of the distinction between “proper-name” (entirely personal) morality and “social” morality, for the history of Christian mysticism is a mix of minimal moral concern, proper-name morality, and social morality.
The volume will be of interest to students of religious experience, ethics, and the recent history of mysticism. Carefully reasoned and documented, the argument is couched in clear prose, easily accessible to lay readers as well as to scholars.
More Real-Life X-Files
" With a foreword by James Randi Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell has spent more than thirty years solving the world’s most perplexing mysteries. This new casebook reveals the secrets of the Winchester Mystery House, the giant Nazca drawings of Peru, the Shroud of Turin, the “Mothman” enigma, the Amityville Horror house, the vicious goatsucking El Chupacabras, and numerous other “unexplainable” paranormal phenomena. Nickell has traveled far and wide to solve cases, which include a weeping icon in Russia, the elusive Bigfoot-like “yowie” in Australia, the reputed power of a headless saint in Spain, and an “alien hybrid” in Germany. He has gone undercover—often in disguise—to reveal the tricks of those who pretend to talk to the dead, accompanied a Cajun guide into a Louisiana swamp in search of a fabled monster, and gained an audience with a voodoo queen. Superstar psychic medium John Edward, pet psychic Sonya Fitzpatrick, evangelist and healer Benny Hinn, and many other well-known figures have found themselves under Nickell’s careful scrutiny. The Mystery Chronicles examines more than three dozen intriguing mysteries. Nickell uses a hands-on approach and the scientific method to steer between the extremes of mystery mongering and debunking. His investigative skills have won him both acclaim and controversy during his long career as one of the world’s foremost paranormal investigators.