Thursday, 30 June 2011

Magic, Witches and Parapsychology

Books received for review:

Butler, Alison, Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic: Invoking Tradition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

In the midst of increasing secularization and the birth of scientific naturalism, a curious group emerged in Victorian Britain. From 1888-1900, hundreds of men and women were initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at temples across Britain and in Paris. Amongst them were famous personalities such as William Butler Yeats, Florence Farr, Annie Horniman, Maud Gonne and the infamous Aleister Crowley. These men and women met in secret temples for even more secretive rituals, in order to learn the techniques of ritual magic. Members put this magic to use in various ways including attempting murder, preserving peace, and travelling to other planets.
This examination of the rituals and personalities associated with the Golden Dawn demonstrates how Victorian magic provided an alternative to the tightening camps of science and religion in an intellectual environment that heightened the allure of magic. Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic explores how nineteenth-century occultism encompassed many of the aspirations and ideals of the middle-class, while completely revolutionizing Western magic.

Pickering, Andrew, and David Pickering, Witch-Hunting in England (Amberley, 2010)

This book will address the origins of witch-hunting in England in the sixteenth century, the methods by which it was conducted, its distribution, its causes and consequences, and its decline. While addressing a general readership it will be a scholarly work that is informed by the historiography of the subject - e.g. feminist perspectives, functional explanations, post-modern interpretations. The text will be rich in primary source material including trial records and contemporary literature, including demonological texts and the papers of the Royal Society. Most of the illustrations will also be engravings from the period but some maps and location photographs will be included.

About the Author
David Pickering is an experienced reference books compiler. He has contributed to (and often been sole author and editor of) some 150 reference books, mostly in the areas of the arts, language, local history and popular interest. These include a Dictionary of Theatre (1988), an Encyclopedia of Pantomime (1993), Brewer's Twentieth-Century Music (1994; 1997), a Dictionary of Superstitions (1995) and a Dictionary of Witchcraft (1996). Andrew Pickering is Senior Lecturer in History and Archaeology at Strode College, Somerset, and is Programme Manager of the History, Heritage and Archaeology Foundation Degree with the University of Plymouth.

Smith, Matthew D., Anomalous Experiences: Essays from Parapsychological and Psychological Perspectives (McFarland, 2010)

From the back cover:
Thirteen essays on the psychology and parapsychology of anomalous experience explore extrasensory perception, haunting experiences, apparitions, alien contacts, séance room phenomena, and out-of-body experiences. The contributors are Daryl Bem, Etzel Cardena, Jezz Fox, Chris French, Craig Murray, Ciaran O'Keeffe, Chris Roe, Simon Sherwood, Christine Simmonds-Moore, Paul Stevens, Caroline Watt, Richard Wiseman and Robin Woofitt

Feeling the future: studies of precognitive emotional arousal / Daryl J. Bem — Experimenter effects in parapsychology: three studies — With a remote helping task / Caroline Watt — The role of altered states of consciousness in extrasensory — Experiences / Chris A. Roe — Are our assumptions more anomalous than the phenomena? / Paul Stevens — Will we ever know whether extrasensory perception exists? / Jezz Fox — Towards a sociological parapsychology / Robin Wooffitt — Psychological perspectives — Anomalous experiences during deep hypnosis / Etzel Cardea — Haunting experiences: an integrative approach / Ciarn O'Keeffe and Steve Parsons — Apparitions of black dogs / Simon J. Sherwood — Psychological aspects of the alien contact experience / Christopher C. French, Julia Santomauro, Victoria Hamilton — Rachel fox and michael thalbourne — Observing the impossible: eyewitness testimony for — Darkroom seances / Richard Wiseman — Developing a dissociational account of out-of-body — Experiences / Craig D. Murray — Anomalous experiences and boundary thinness in — The mind and brain / Christine Simmonds-Moore.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Spiritualism and the Golden Dawn

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the most important magical society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was established on the basis of spirit communication with supernatural entities. Known as the ‘Secret Chiefs’, these entities provided the source of authority for the leaders of the Order as well as later becoming the subject of dissension, functioning in a similar way to the contemporary Theosophical ‘Mahatmas’. However, the Golden Dawn is generally not considered in relation to the Spiritualist Movement. This chapter will re-examine that perspective by investigating the historical importance of alternative forms of mediumship within this magical society and its off-shoots.

Prof. Christopher Moreman, California State University, is editing a major three volume series on Spiritualism and has just accepted my proposed chapter on Spiritualism and the Golden Dawn.

About the book (from the original call for papers):

Modern Spiritualism as a religious movement finds its roots in mid-nineteenth century upstate New York during a time of great spiritual fervor in New England. Since then, Spiritualism has flourished and spread world-wide. Studies of Spiritualism have largely focused on the movement’s relationship to emergent feminism and gender issues or on its relationship to the paranormal and psychical research. The present series­ a 3 volume edited collection titled, The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World to be published by Praeger seeks to broaden the scope of the study of Spiritualism, and to bring together diverse perspectives on this American-made global religion.

The book will cover a broad range of subjects:

• American origins of the Spiritualist movement and its cultural and political ramifications
• Feminist perspectives on the Spiritualist movement and its leadership
• In-depth overviews of important figures in the history of Spiritualism (i.e. the Fox sisters, Patience Worth, Arthur Conan Doyle, William James, Frederic Myers, Harry Houdini, or William Lyon Mckenzie King)
• The spread of Spiritualism and the Spiritualist movement in
non-American contexts (i.e. Iceland, England, Brazil, Europe, East Asia)
• Ethnographic studies of Spiritualism
• Evidence-based claims made by Spiritualism and Spiritualists
• Debates over the findings of psychical research and parapsychological studies of mediums
• Mediumship as a phenomenon of human experience throughout history and across the globe.
• Spiritualism in relation to other new religious movements like the Theosophical Society, the Thelemic Orders, or Wicca
• Spiritualism and mediums as portrayed in popular media and the popularity of the movement generally
• Death, grief, and the role of Spiritualism in bereavement
• Christian and other dominant religions’ responses to Spiritualism

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Call to End Ghana 'Witch Camps'

George Asekere of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation has issued an emotional plea to abolish the so-called 'witch camps' and bring the persecution of alleged witches to an end.
Many Ghanaians believe witchcraft is real and can be destructive. This non-empirical and intuitive mentality with no justification in today’s scientific world, is unfortunately the bane behind the inhumane treatment meted out to people perceived to be witches. It is embarrassing, that in the midst of Christian and Islamic teachings and the claim that rule of law is supreme in Ghana, as many as over 966 women and six hundred and seven (607) children are detained in three out of the six witch camps in the Northern Region. These are Ngani witches camp in Yendi, the Kukuo witches camp at Bimbila and the famous Gambaga witches camp at Gambaga.

You can read the full story at

Also in the news is Accra's Old Fadama slum, home to many of those fleeing witchcraft accusations. Read the report here

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Paranormal is now Supernatural

My forthcoming book The Paranormal has now been renamed The Supernatural following negotiations for a US deal. Part of Constable & Robinson's Brief Histories/Guides series, the book is scheduled for publication on 19 April 2012, although that change. Already there's been a lot of interest and I'll be posting some advance reviews in the coming months.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

'Magic is Might 2012': Call for Papers

Harry Potter conference in Ireland. Call for papers just announced:
'Magic is Might 2012': Call for Papers: "The Harry Potter series has become a publishing phenomenon that has captured the imagination of children and adults all over the world. The ..."

This two-day event will feature twenty 15-20 minute presentations on papers relating to popular culture and the Harry Potter series. We will encourage intensive and lively discussion and debate around the papers over the two days in this intimate setting. Wizards, muggles, established academics and postgraduate students are invited to submit papers.