Book Club: Ch. 3

As before, all notes here are approximate, EBoard members are referred to by full name, and other attendees are referred to by initial.


S: Finally have the book, and almost caught up!

Aleja: Opening Question: Do you have a familiar or work with spirits in your own practice? 

Cat: I have an animal spirit, not exactly a familiar, that I work with in journey space. A fox.

Aleja: I have a house full of spirits. [For those who don’t know me personally, my household includes a brownie Steward, a faery panther Guardian, a spider Guardian, a marine shrimp Helper, a pixie Helper, my husband’s wolf Familiar, and at any given time there are a variety of Guests.]

Cat: Your house holds all the spirits.

Aleja: Not quite all of them, lol.

S: I don’t really: no energy sense.

Aleja: I like “encounter-narratives” (p. 46) as a different way to refer to UPG, in a more academic sense.

S: What’s UPG?

Aleja: Unverified personal gnosis. And there’s also “shared personal gnosis”, or “peer corroborated personal gnosis”

Cat: I like the idea of “godcanon”, like a hypothesis based on the lore and such

S: UPG is important when there’s very little lore about your deity

Aleja: Super agreed. Like Flidais’s daughters in Irish lore. Just snippets, sometimes not much more than a name.

Aleja: Endnote 3 is important, top of page 47. It gives an additional example, of a woman with a demon dog familiar, mentioned in the pamphlet but not the indictment.

Cat: *gushes about devil dogs and black dogs*

Aleja: Quotation pg 47: “Any magical beliefs which did not easily assimilate into Christian doctrine and ritual were associated with the Devil, and beliefs concerning the use of spirits to perform magic were obvious targets.”
And honestly, the rest of that paragraph, too.

Aleja: And on the next page… “demonological ideas about witchcraft merged with popular witch lore in a far more complex manner than any dualist and hierarchical elite/popular abstraction allows” (p.48) and also, endnote 5:

From Oldridge, ed The Witchcraft Reader, 2002, Introduction: “Carlo Ginzberg and Eva Pcos argue in this book that the origins of the [witches’] sabbat can be found in folk beliefs.  On the opposite extreme, some historians have argued that all the elements in witchcraft accusations should be regarded as learned fantasies… The majority of historians occupy ground somewhere in between.”

C: Do we have any sources for the witches sabbath that isn’t made up?

Aleja: As in, not from trials?

Cat: yeah?

Aleja: Diaries in Italy I think? But idk, you’d have to check the sources of continental folklorists like Ginzberg and Pcos.

Cat: Trying to rule out down filtering of beliefs from prosecutors vs the beliefs of the people themselves.

Cat: Also, why is everyone a Briggs? [Joking, about Robin Briggs, pg 48. And also the well-known folklorist Katherine Briggs.]

Aleja: P.50, “Close links between the Scottish Devil and the fairy men of folklore.” True of the American South, too – possibly brought by Scots to America.  Compare “Devil Went Down To Georgia” to neck/nokken of Germanic folklore.
Also, I want Wilby’s other article! A lot of times academics write a short paper before they write a full length book, and this one seems like a precursor.
[The Witch’s Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland (Wilby, 2000).]

Cat: Email Wilby? A lot of times they’ll be happy to send you the article. I want all of these!

Aleja: Endnote 18 (p.51) is important again: Wilby thinks that historical surveys have underestimated the number of accused witches who were working as cunning folk.

Aleja: P. 52: “[Reginald] Scot (who used the term ‘witch’ to cover both black witches and healers)…”
Okay, 1) I hate the term “black magic”.

S: Yeah, I wasn’t sure there for a minute if that meant “witches who are black” or what. Systemic racism in academia.

Aleja: Exactly. If you mean malevolent or baneful, say *that*. Black magic/white magic is super problematic. Also, I think the whole binary way of thinking of magic as good or bad isn’t useful but that’s more a personal viewpoint.
2) Reginald Scot is a contemporary! That treatise (The Discoverie of Witchcraft) was first published in 1584! Maybe, if the contemporaries don’t see a distinction, you shouldn’t decide to create pigeon holes to shove things in.

Cat: She’s setting up a dichotomy, but didn’t she say those weren’t good?

Aleja: Wilby previously said that it was largely a modern fabrication, but she’s still continuing to use it. And this continues on pgs 53-54. [Some of the sarcastic comments have been added back in to these notes, as I didn’t fully transcribe those.]

“It is difficult to say with any certainty whether the individual who stood before the bench was a cunning woman or a witch. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the fact that there was a great deal of overlap between the two types of magical practitioner in this period.” [or, maybe, always, because, you know, this is an artificial dichotomy *upsidedown smiley face*] “While historians often make a distinction between cunning folk, who performed good magic, and witches, who performed bad magic, in the early modern period this distinction was often blurred.” [then… maybe… we shouldn’t be using it??? Just a thought.] “Although some cunning folk had a reputation for being wholly good, a large proportion of them were considered ambivalent, that is, they could employ their magical powers to both help and harm.” [Wow. Just like practitioners today in basically every tradition. Strange.]

Aleja: She’s pushing boundaries and changing the way academia thinks and writes about British witchcraft in so many ways, so whyyyyyy are we using this false dichotomy?????
[From my notes:] I really think this is a false dichotomy that Wilby would have done better to leave it out completely.  Significant overlap between two types that makes it impossible to tell them apart?  Maybe they aren’t two types.  Maybe the big issue of the day was more, trying to figure out which magics were legal and which weren’t.  The cunning folk vs witch really feels forced, especially on the next page where she pretty much says that it doesn’t apply to the practices as they were seen by contemporaries.  From my perspective, she’s forcing her modern perspective back on it, and even her modern perspective is at odds with a large portion of the practitioner community today.  Not sure if majority because of Christian witches and Wiccan witches who won’t do banework, but most of us do both at least some of the time.  Heal and Hex, as sides of a coin.
[back to verbal:] Ugh. Rant over.

Cat: “Church and State made no distinction, in theory at least, between ‘black’ and ‘white’ magic, so they made no distinction between familiars which were used to harm and familiars which were used to heal: both were considered to be evil, that is, of the Devil.” (pg 55.) So it didn’t matter what you were doing.

Aleja: On the lower half of pg 56, Wilby is roadmapping again, laying out the next few chapters.

C: I this these next topics are good questions to ask, and I’m glad to explore them in future chapters.  Even though we’re still in that dichotomy, we’re comparing/contrasting.  I’m interested in looking at popular beliefs vs theological stereotypes.

Aleja: On Familiars… “The familiars used by cunning folk shall be termed ‘fairy familiars’.” pg 56, and “The familiar spirit used by the witch, on the other hand, will be defined as a ‘demon familair.” pg 57.
This seems. Just, incredibly arbitrary.  Dividing familiars into “fairy” if they’re mostly benevolent or “demon” if they’re mostly malevolent is… somewhat nonsensical.  I’m having a huge amount of difficulty wrapping my head around this distinction.  And then on 58, demon familiars include animal familiars of malevolent practitioners as well.  Okay?  I guess?

S: What the fuck?

Cat: Is it just because because they’re said to take animal form?

Aleja: I think she’s starting from the assumption that none of these spirits exist and therefore they’re the same thing.

S: Even if you don’t believe in them, it’s important to distinguish between different types as described.

Cat: Attitude seems oppositional to her earlier statement about not dismissing folkloric beliefs.

Aleja: Partly it’s for ease of discussion, probably, and she did talk about overlap in terms used to refer to these spirits… but I think if you look at the source, often two or three terms would be used by practitioners for one familiar, but probably not the entire breadth of terms.  Which is still, I think, an important distinction.
For example: Bessie Dunlop wouldn’t have called Tom an imp or a demon, though the interrogators might.  She’d say fairy, ghost, maybe elf, and that’s probably it.

Aleja: Underlining bottom page 57.  “In these cases it is not clear whether the magical practitioner would be more accurately defined as a witch or as a cunning man or woman.” As in, ~I’m trying to be accurate using this false dichotomy I’ve imposed upon data that doesn’t want it!~ *eyeroll*

Aleja: Oh, if you didn’t notice, at the top of 58, Wilby explains the notation on date/location she’ll use as we go forward
Buuuut… What do we all think?

S: I have a slowly growing disappointment in the author.

Cat: Hesitant enthusiasm for the coming chapters?

S: This is why I don’t often read books about what I do, because they’re Wrong about things.

Aleja: It’s interesting “how” she’s wrong.  And do you mean academic or pagan?

S: I don’t read much academic, but a lot of pagan texts are misinformation.  I liked the Goodly Spellbook. Top level info, and could also double check if it was accurately portrayed in context because it gave sources.

Aleja: Plug Morgan Daimler time! Their books (on fairies, Celtic, and Norse myth) have good research, lots of citations, and Daimler actually speaks some of the languages well enough to translate.

And then we wrapped up!
Next Book Club Meeting is 4/13/19!

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