26.3.15

WITCHCRAFT AND PAGANISM

Trevor Greenfield (ed.) Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On. Moon Books, 2014.

Trevor Greenfield (ed.) Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans. Moon Books, 2014.

Richard Metzger (ed.) The Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult. Disinformation Books, San Francisco, 2014.

These books are similar, in that all are collections of essays by different authors on contemporary occultism. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On, which refers to Gerald Gardner’s 1954 book, is 180 pages long, whereas The Book of Lies, which is primarily about Aleister Crowley (from whom the title is borrowed, and who resurrected the old spelling of ‘magick’), is much larger, 352 pages with small print in double columns.

It is now six decades since the appearance of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, which sold 5,500 copies. To those not familiar with publishing, this might not seem many, but actually very few books sell more than 5,000 copies. He originally intended to call it New Light on Witchcraft, and included a lot of material on yoga, which his editors deleted as irrelevant.

The sensational point was his claim that witchcraft was still practised, albeit on a very small scale, when most people assumed that it was extinct, if it had ever existed at all. But Gardner’s biggest influence was by way of a work that he never published – the ‘Book of Shadows’, which contains a set of witchcraft rituals, and has now been copied worldwide. The various contributors to 60 Years On discuss the diverse offshoots, ‘Alexandrian witchcraft’, derived from Alex Sanders, the ‘Seax Tradition’, which is based around the Saxon deities Woden and Freya, the feminist Dianic Tradition which naturally is for women only, and so on.

There has also been a widespread revival of Paganism generally, witchcraft being just one aspect of it. Greenfield has assembled an even larger group of contributors, 101 as his title indicates. These include Druid, Heathens, Goddess Followers, and there are discussions of Deities, Nature, Ethics, Afterlife, Ancestors, Ritual, Magic, Healing and Celebrant Work.

Jack Parsons was a prominent rocket-fuel scientist, and certainly the only disciple of Crowley to have a crater on the far side of the moon named after him. He died in an explosion in his laboratory in 1952. An explosion in a rocket-fuel laboratory should not be too surprising (it was rocket science), but his ‘Scarlet Woman’ Marjorie Cameron, who went on to star in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, “always believed that Howard Hughes was somehow behind it.”

The connection of H. P. Lovecraft with Crowley is tenuous: in his Supernatural Horror in Literature he discussed Leonard Cline’s novel The Dark Chamber, which mentioned Crowley. Erik Davis observes that “while most 1930s pulp fiction is nearly unreadable today”, Lovecraft has a ’cult’ status, with a curiously literal dimension. Fans are not content to read stories about weird otherworldly entities, Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlathotep, and the rest of them, but often invoke them in magickal ceremonies. This is an interesting example of how a piece of fiction takes on a life of its own. To this day the London headquarters of Santander Bank, which is located in Baker Street, employ a secretary to answer letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Even more remarkably, the city of Verona employs several secretaries to reply to letters sent to Juliet by lovelorn women.

Allen Greenfield looks at the influence of Crowley on Wicca, based upon his research into unpublished documents. As he observes, there are Crowley borrowings in the Book of Shadows used by Gardner. In consequence, “I think Aleister and Gerald may have cooked Wicca up.” The problem with this hypothesis is that the Crowley borrowings, on close inspection, all turn out to have been taken from a 1919 volume entitled the Blue Equinox. Notably, Crowley’s Book of the Law is nowhere quoted at first hand, only at second hand, which proves that he was not personally responsible for the Book of Shadows. -- Gareth J. Medway.
 

22.3.15

TWO UFO CRASHES

Larry Holcombe. The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama. Foreword by Stanton Friedman. St Martin’s Press, 2015

Can UFOs Advance Science? A New Look at the Evidence. SUNRISE Information Services, 2015.

Among the vast plethora of UFO books that I read in the 1970s was one called UFOs, Past, Present and Future by Robert Emeneger (Ballantine Books, 1974), based on a TV documentary. What distinguished this otherwise reasonable run-of-the-mill book was a fictional presentation of a future alien landing. Years later UFO-lore started to claim that this story was an actual event; a real life UFO landing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 1964 - although that was later changed to 1954, and the president that met the aliens was Eisenhower not Johnson. Needless to say no actual evidence was ever presented to back up this tale or tales.
 
This tale is now being resurrected along with a good many more pieces of ufological apocrypha in Larry Holcombe's book, which purports to document how US presidents dealt with the 'UFO problem'. Contemporaneous documentation is notable in large part for its absence, instead we have fake documents such as the notorious MJ12 memos, alleged memories, various rumours presented as fact and so on. Of course also included is the hint that President Kennedy was murdered (by whom?) because he was about to reveal the 'truth' about UFOs.
 
We now have more alleged 'documents' claiming that an alien spaceship or spaceships was/were shot down or otherwise crashed during the Second World War and that FDR (who clearly didn’t have enough to do) set up a top secret investigation. He was succeeded by Harry Truman, who knew how to keep a secret because the US military is good at keeping secrets - tell that to Julian Assange or Edward Snowdon - as witness the Manhattan project (not exactly a secret to Stalin); or indeed for the most important secret of all, the details of the D-Day landings, which were so secret that they ended up in a Times crossword, compiled by a group of schoolboys as a punishment.
 
As has frequently been pointed out (by me among others) that secrecy only works when you are in charge of the situation. What would have been the point of secrecy if an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell? How would they know that the aliens would not land on the White House and demand the wreckage back (that’s what the US military would have done), and why would any politician keep schtum about the greatest story in human history and not spin it for maximum political capital? That secret would have to be kept by every leader of every country in the world for nearly 70 years.
 
Apparently the president who was going to reveal the truth about the UFOs was Richard Nixon. We know this because the widow of the comedian Jackie Gleeson tells us so. Obviously Gleeson was in the possession of the secrets that 'They' shot John and Bobby Kennedy to protect. I can just about imagine that Tricky Dicky might have been tempted to create a UFO contact story in some last desperate bid to hang on to power, but either got cold feet or was stopped at some point.
 
Of course we are told that Donald Menzel the noted UFO skeptic was in the dreaded MJ12 and was a personal friend of John Kennedy (or so we are told). That was before James Jesus Angleton had Kennedy assassinated to protect the secrets of MJ12. That was after bumping off Marilyn Monroe for the same reason. It is not clear what Menzel thought about that. All of this will be familiar to viewers of the old Dark Skies TV series, but that was at least advertised as fiction.
 
What is clear is that American ufologists’ now think investigating actual UFO reports is below their dignity, playing political activist and hunting out imaginary conspiracies is clearly far more fun, at least for those who are not playing at being psychotherapists. The sub title of this book should read 'fantasy history' rather than 'secret history'

The short answer to the question posed in the title of the second book under review is 'maybe', but not by the methods adopted in this anonymous book, which consist of a few poorly and uncritically presented UFO cases, none of them new or original, and lots of idle speculation, much of it centred around the anti-gravity theories of the late Thomas Townsend Brown. Brown was the original founder of NICAP, the well-known American UFO group, only to be booted out and replaced by Donald Keyhoe after about a year. As with much of these theories, most of the last century of physics is ditched.

Needless to say despite chapter headings 'Are we dealing with a secret man-made experiment' and 'Are we dealing with ball lightning' these suggestions are dismissed and we are back to good old fashioned nuts and bolts ETH.

The mysterious organisation which has published this book is described as an 'Australian owned private research centre', aimed at creating what it calls 'stable core knowledge' which will eventually explain everything in a simple way and will act as a sort of religion; indeed the acronym stands ‘Search for a Unified Religion in Information for Social Equality‘. Information that is not provided on its website or in this book is the names, qualifications and background of its members. You might think that when people hide behind anonymity it means they have something to hide, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Of course the idea of a search for a 'stable core of knowledge', which is presented as a quasi- religion may appeal to authoritarian and uninspiring school teachers but is antithetical to real science. If this book is anything to go on it is also unlikely to have more than a superficial resemblance to the science taught even in the dullest and most out of date textbooks, even at your local free school. -- Peter Rogerson.


18.3.15

SCARESHIPS AND SCAREOPLANES

Nigel Watson. UFOs of the First World War: Phantom Airships, Balloons, Aircraft and Other Mysterious Aerial Phenomena. History Press, 2015.

As any UFO historian knows, phantom airships were haunting our skies well before the First World War. The Great1897 Airship Wave in the US is well documented and speculated upon, less familiar is the smaller wave of 1908. The Danish airship sightings in the same year are less well known, as are the Swedish sightings from the following year. Certainly in 1897 the ‘airship’ was a semi-mythical concept to most people, and any anomalous observation could be attributed to it.

The jury is still out on whether any of the 1897 American airship reports were actually observations of real airships, but the idea that an unidentified aerial object or light might be a real airship from a foreign, and probably unfriendly, power was a very definite possibly across Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century.

As an island nation, Great Britain has historically felt itself safe from, and paradoxically vulnerable to, foreign invasion, and in the period before the First World War this was a preoccupation that was encouraged through alarmist novels and political propaganda. Writers such as William Le Queux, author of The Great War in England in 1897, which described a French and Russian invasion, and The Invasion of 1910, proposing a rather more plausible German invasion, help build an atmosphere of apprehension.

Britain’s presumed vulnerability increased with the growth of military aviation and the English Channel could no longer be seen as “a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands”. A number of military pundits and aviators were urging the Government to take preventative action against possible aerial attack in the early years of the century. This book reproduces a page from an article in The Strand magazine of July 1911, by the pioneer aviator Claude Graham-White, pointing out that now “a man whirls through the air at sixty-three miles an hour, lunching in London and having tea in Paris” and that “there is a danger in England’s apathy” about the threats on aerial warfare.

The first big British airship scare started in 1909. The sighting by Constable Kettle of the Peterborough police was one of the first, and has appeared in many UFO books, along with a rather imaginative illustration from the local newspaper, as a proto-UFO. But reports soon followed from around East Anglia and the coastal areas of Essex and Kent, which would have been plausible areas for an enemy, particularly German, air fleet to invade.

But the idea of flying Teutonic invaders seems less plausible as reports appeared from areas as far to the west as South Wales (the famous Lethbridge incident) and as far north as Belfast.

Even less likely was the idea of a German invasion of New Zealand, but that nation was also subject to a phantom invasion in 1909, which involved reports of crashed airship, Japanese pilots, German-speaking occupants, and even secret crash-retrieval operations and a Government cover-up.

There was a second British scare in 1913, when the threat of German aggression was growing, which led to questions in Parliament, and rumours of arms and ammunition stockpiled by German sympathisers in London - mainly it would seem by waiters in Soho restaurants.

As the Great War drew closer in the early months of 1914 reports of sightings of airships and heavier-than-air vehicles spread across the whole of the country, and from some of the reports gathered in this book it seems likely that a number of them were reports of actual foreign aircraft. But even so, the great majority of them seemed to have been classic ‘misinterpretations of natural phenomena.’ I’m amused to see that Merseyside’s reputation for ufological scepticism was foreshadowed by a report from the Headquarters of the Mersey Defences, Liverpool, by a certain Major de Wattevill who dismissed the reports:
“The airship scare continued harmlessly. The Chief Constable of Lancashire is clean off his head over them. He has enlisted 20,000 special PCs for the war and they have to earn their living. I am convinced that Barrow is cracked on the subject. There are so many iron foundries in Furness that at night the glare of the smoke in the sky are enough to create airships whenever the wind and clouds are right”
Fifty years later he could have been writing for the Merseyside UFO Bulletin!

As the War drew on there were indeed real airships flying across the English coastline delivering death and destruction: the book shows pictures of the first aerial attacks on British soil at Great Yarmouth in January 1915. Now false airship reports became a matter of concern to the authorities, as they could detract attention from the genuine threats. This led to prosecutions for spreading such rumours. However in some cases rewards were also offered for exposing the non-existent secret locations from where a supposed 5th column was launching the airships.

The rumours and sightings were not confined to Britain. Airship stories returned to the USA, and were introduced into Canada, where they were dubbed ‘scareoplanes’ and on one occasion led to a complete blackout of Ottawa. Here they were blamed on German sympathisers in the US or planes launched from German warships in the Atlantic. South Africa was also troubled by the phantoms, supposedly launched from German-controlled South West Africa.

Nigel Watson points out that all of the characteristics of the phantom airships were replicated in the post-WWII saucer scare, and many of the same culprits were identified: kites, Chinese lanterns, searchlights, astronomical objects particularly Venus and a variety of meteorological effects. It’s revealing to look at the details of some of the cases described and guess how a present day ufologist would analyse them. Quite a few of them involved lights in the sky hanging round for an hour or more - spies carefully studying the lie of the land, or an astronomical source?

War is a great generator of rumour, and in times of war people are more inclined to believe any information, however unreliable, that they receive. Besides the aerial phenomena we have rumours of invading, or relieving, armies - Russians with snow on their boots - or support from the supernatural - the Angels of Mons. There are reports of phantom aviators on both sides of the conflict performing feats of bravery to avenge the death of a loved one.

The research into original sources in this book is impressive, but Nigel has been researching this topic since his first published pieces in MUFOB back in the 1970s, and this book displays just a selection of the data he has amassed. But more importantly than being just a collection of ‘sighting reports’ it is an description of how the social and political background to our lives can determine the way in which we perceive and react to such data. -- John Rimmer.



Read Nigel's airship articles in MUFOB and Magonia:
 

14.3.15

SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE

Jeri Studebaker: Breaking the Mother Goose Code: How a Fairy-Tale Character Fooled the World for 300 Years. Moon Books, 2015.

All of us are familiar with fairy tales, usually associated with a warm glow of childhood memories when we first heard them, and then heard them again and again. They are somehow imbued in our consciousness as enduring archetypes and metaphors for the underlying principles of life itself, such as the struggle between the forces of Good and Evil, and the quest for true Love. In this easily readable and friendly record of her extensive research, American author Judi Studebaker takes us with her on her personal odyssey to discover who or what was ultimately behind the emergence of Fairy Tales in general, and Mother Goose in particular.

What if Mother Goose was actually the ancient European, Egyptian, or even Universal Mother Goddess in disguise?  The author eventually reaches just this conclusion which she intuited at the start of her interest in Mother Goose, but to her credit does it by following the admirable path of thorough research, historical verification, and the scientific method of testing her theory. It has to be said that Mother Goose appears to resonate more with Americans than those of us raised in Britain. What we call "Nursery Rhymes" here are often referred to as "Mother Goose Rhymes" over there. However, we are here dealing with matters far more serious than mere children's rhymes and stories, for there was a time in European history when holding ancient pre-Christian beliefs and practices, or even being suspected of them, could result in torture and death. To quote directly from the book: "...it became unsafe even to talk privately about pre-Christian religion - especially after the witch persecutions began. In fact, it got so bad that eventually a kind of mania settled over many parts of Europe. It seemed everyone suspected everyone else of being a witch."

The author goes on to explain, with several references to other researchers, that there were well-founded fears of those who might use black magic to harm others, but that "Europeans also believed in what are variously called white witches, cunning folk, healers, shamans, and several other terms designating people considered able to use magic in a positive way to satisfy a multitude of human needs."
 
In short, the fundamental message of this book is that Fairy Tales appeared in Europe at just the same time that Christianity was reaching its most aggressively Patriarchal guise. They were timeless allegories of of a long-lost civilisation that was Matriarchal in character, so they celebrate the female in her three main stages of Princess (virgin girl), Mother (adult woman) and Crone (woman having attained wisdom, knowledge and power, represented as a witch). In Fairy Tales, frogs may be princes in disguise and crones are princesses in disguise, teaching us not to judge by appearances and to have compassion for all our fellow beings, as far as circumstances allow. They are timeless repositories of wisdom, reminding us that beyond the mundane world there is a realm of magic and all possibility. Ultimately, the Goose represents the Goddess, the mystical divine feminine entity that laid the Cosmic Egg, all of Creation. --  Kevin Murphy


11.3.15

FIRST READ: 'ALLO, 'ALLO, 'ALLO!

John Harney recalls first reading a book by “Britain’s leading UFO detective” and muses on what it tells us about the current state of UFO research in Britain.

The UFO scene in Britain in the 1990s was quite lively, as there were a number of UFO groups which had memberships consisting of both believers and sceptics. One controversial character who obviously much preferred the believers was Tony Dodd.

On first reading this book shortly after it was published, I found it quite amusing and did not study it in any depth. However, on reading it again I am struck by the way it seems typical of 1990s British ufology. It begins with a list of acknowledgements, giving the names of ufologists, most of whom were notorious for their credulity, or in some cases plain dishonesty, with regard to the study of UFO reports.

To the casual reader, at least some of the material in this book might seem quite convincing, even if somewhat bizarre, but the more critical reader will surely realise, on reading the introduction, that this is not a serious study of UFO reports and investigations of them. We are told that a man had arranged to collect a package that he was to send to Tony Dodd. He collected this from a diplomat, as arranged, in a street in Hampstead, London, who handed it over even though he knew that they were being watched by four men in a car who were determined to grab the package. We are also told that the man receiving the package noticed that one of the men in the car had visited him a few weeks earlier to warn him that he was under surveillance. How ridiculous can one get? The rest of this account is even less plausible, and before it ends most readers will have guessed correctly that the package, which of course contained amazing photographs and other evidence of UFOs, was never received by Tony Dodd.

What was particularly interesting about Tony Dodd was that, unlike many other folk who got closely involved in ufology, he seemed to have a very sane and normal background. We are given an account of his happy childhood, happy marriage, and an interesting and satisfying career as a police officer, attaining the rank of sergeant.

Dodd states that his first UFO encounter took place in January 1978 when he was driving a police car in North Yorkshire, accompanied by a colleague. His description of it is remarkably similar to the "Venusian scout ship" photographed by George Adamski. He claimed that many people, including other police officers, also saw UFOs, but I am not aware of any significant independent reports from other people in North Yorkshire. However, Dodd asserts that he "soon became eerily aware that they appeared to be looking out for me as much as I was for them".

After about four years, Dodd joined the Yorkshire UFO Society, which became famous, or notorious, depending on your point of view, among British ufologists. He was invited to join the Society as Director of Investigations. Its activities expanded and it became an international organisation, so his name became widely known in the UFO world.

Inevitably, he then received many more reports, including some that those who prefer to examine extraordinary claims critically would inevitably classify as hoaxes. Perhaps the most notable of these was the Kalahari Conspiracy. Dodd received a letter and what the writer claimed was a South African Air Force briefing document, giving details of the crash of a spacecraft containing humanoid aliens in the Kalahari Desert on 7 May 1989. Despite "misgivings" about the document, Dodd and others who read it apparently accepted it as a clumsy copy of a genuine official document, even though it was an obvious hoax, and not even a clever one.

It seems that the more Dodd became involved in ufology, the more credulous he became, and he went on to investigate reports of alien abductions, interviewing apparent abductees with the aid of a hypnotist. Of course, he obviously considered most of these to be real, rather than looking for psychological explanations.

He claimed to receive telepathic messages from the aliens and wrote: "I have been told many times that I have an important role to play in the communication link between aliens and human beings".

Part of Dodd's police work inevitably involved investigating reports of dead and mutilated farm animals. Instead of accepting that these were caused by predators, scavengers, and the occasional crazed vandals, he accepted the assertions of some of the rather dodgy American ufologists who interested themselves in this topic that some of these incidents were caused by the activities of the space aliens. He also accepted claims that the aliens sometimes killed humans, ignoring the credible explanations offered for such deaths and disappearances.

Perhaps the most amusing stories concern Dodd's fascination with alleged UFO incidents in and around Iceland. His investigations there must have aroused some interest, as we are told that during 1996 and 1997 Icelandic trawlermen (or men claiming to be Icelandic trawlermen?) took to phoning him with accounts of their amazing UFO sightings. It seems not to have occurred to him that they might have found his uncritical acceptance of their stories amusing.

In the long term the activities of Tony Dodd and like-minded ufologists had a negative effect on the serious investigation of unusual aerial phenomena and strange incidents, whether real or imaginary. There were other rather credulous, or just plain dishonest, British UFO books and magazines, which soon reduced what at one time looked like developing into possibly useful interdisciplinary studies of unusual incidents, whether physical or psychological, to merely a form of popular entertainment.


Tony Dodd. Alien Investigator: The Case Files of Britain's Leading UFO Detective. Headline, London, 1999.


9.3.15

THE LAST MAGICIAN

Peter Stockinger and Sue Ward, William Lilly: The Last Magician - Astrologer and Adept, Mandrake, 2014.

The esoteric world of the early Enlightenment threw up some wonderfully cool characters who continue to inspire not just fascination but even devotion. Not least among them is William Lilly (1602-81); even the normally staid Westminster City Council felt moved to commemorate him, uniquely, as a ‘Master Astrologer’ by placing a plaque on the site of his house in the Strand.

Two of his fans within the astrological world, Peter Stockinger and Sue Ward, both practising astrologers, have produced this anthology made up of writings by Lilly and their own essays, written jointly and individually, about him.

Most of the book is taken up with Lilly’s autobiography, written at the request of his close friend Elias Ashmole, who intended to publish it but for some reason never did. Lilly’s manuscript, with margin notes by Ashmole – included here – survives in the Ashmolean Museum and has been faithfully, indeed lovingly, transcribed by Ward for this volume. Although Lilly’s Life is already widely available, according to these authors this is the first time it has been published ‘unchanged and in its entirety.’

The Life makes fascinating reading, both because of Lilly’s eventful life and his account of seventeenth century England during the turbulent period of the Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration, events which Lilly witnessed and participated in; he was there at Charles I’s trial, for example. It also gives a rare insight, even if just a glimpse, into the occult beliefs of the common folk. And there is valuable material on contemporary figures such as Ashmole and the astrologer and necromancer Simon Forman, as well as some from the then-recent past, such as John Dee.

Lilly is an example of seventeenth-century social mobility, rising from humble origins on a Leicestershire farm (a ‘Bean-belly,’ as he puts it), through ‘all manner of Drudgerys’ as servant to a London merchant to (via marriage to his former master’s widow) a position of some financial security, which finally allowed him the money and time to satisfy his long-held curiosity about astrology. After satisfying himself that it really did work he began to practise, ‘setting figures’ for clients and teaching paying pupils, as well as publishing books and pamphlets that included, from 1644, an annual almanac. He developed his own method (‘propheticall Astrology’) for foretelling the outcome of major events, something much in demand in those uncertain times. His results were impressive enough to attract the interest of both sides in the struggle between King and Parliament, and led to him mixing with some of the great and the good of his day, becoming Parliament’s very own astrologer.
 
Adding to the fascination, it becomes clear that Lilly was more involved in political intrigue than he was prepared to set down in writing. He started out as a Royalist but in 1644, seeing what the stars told him about the way things were going, switched to the Parliamentary cause, although he always had supporters and patrons in both camps (which stood him in good stead at the Restoration). While being paid a retainer by Parliament – who even sent him on a morale-boosting visit to their troops at the Siege of Colchester - during Charles I’s imprisonment he was consulted several times by Royalists who were planning the King’s escape.

Lilly gives a precise account of how Parliament’s spies in the Royalist ranks in Oxford used (in modern intelligence terminology) dead letter drops to pass information to London, declaring ‘I was then familiar with all the Spies that constantly went in and out to Oxford.’ He writes that, after the King’s fall, Parliament paid him for ‘intelligence out of France’ on the grounds that his informants there were better than its own agents, and that he ‘obliquely…had transactions’ with Cromwell when he was Lord Protector. He also maintained contacts with exiled supporters of Charles II, some of whom intervened on Lilly’s behalf after the Restoration. Clearly, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the Master Astrologer.

Although some of this collection – particularly the Life – will fascinate those with an interest in Enlightenment occultism in general, most is for the specialist practitioner and historian of astrology, for example commentaries on nativity charts for individuals such as Ashmole and Dee, and a detailed technical analysis of Lilly’s nativity (never before published) for one Sir William Wittypoole.

Stockinger and Ward declare the main aim of their book ‘is to correct the myriad errors found in various biographies of William Lilly.’ This is chiefly addressed ‘through the lens of the protracted enmity of John Gadbury towards William Lilly’ in their essay ‘Monster of Ingratitude.’

Gadbury was a less well-known astrologer who in the 1660s sparked off a fierce pamphlet war by accusing Lilly of plagiarism, publicity-seeking and charlatanism. Historians such as Keith Thomas have uncritically accepted Gadbury’s characterisation, with obvious consequences for Lilly’s reputation. Stockinger and Ward dissect the dispute in minute detail and show Gadbury as the real villain who betrayed Lilly’s trust and friendship out of professional and personal jealousy: ‘He wanted Lilly’s social and professional status, he wanted Lilly’s knowledge, and wanted Lilly’s astrological adeptness; in short, he wanted to be Lilly.’

However, although they present a convincing case, Stockinger and Ward lament ‘We are not optimistic that change will occur’ because of it. Sadly, their non-academic status (and the fact they’re astrologers) probably means they’re right, at least where academia is concerned.

The authors are less successful in their second objective, which is to demonstrate that Lilly was an adherent of the ‘natural magic’, based on Hermetic/Neoplatonic philosophy, which was at the core of the Western esoteric tradition as it had developed since the Renaissance, and that this led him to join secret groups of like-minded occultists.

As to the first, they themselves acknowledge, ‘The evidence is scant and speculation and opinion are invoked in order to form a conclusion.’ While it would have been natural for Lilly to have had an interest in wider arcane subjects, they produce little in the way of direct evidence that he practised them.

It’s a similar situation when it comes to his putative involvement in occult secret societies. Ward takes up the speculation by C.H. Josten, the science historian and Ashmole specialist, that the suspicions of ‘heresy and atheism’ that were attached to astrology led practitioners to band together in secret societies, to which she adds, ‘I would venture to take this further and argue that such a group could well have centred around a mutual interest in the study of the hermetic sciences.’ But she gives no specific evidence that Lilly was part of any such group.

For these reasons, the book doesn’t really live up to its title. Stockinger and Ward never establish that Lilly was a magician, still less why he should be considered the last one, nor that he was an adept, or of what.

The authors are rather let down by the book’s production – perhaps inevitable in these cost-conscious days for publishers, particularly independents. A particularly unnecessary irritation is that, although the book is heavily referenced with footnotes, they get progressively out of step with the main text until by the end of the book the reader has to leaf some 25 pages ahead to check a source. Even more irritating is the absence of an index.

These criticisms aside, The Last Magician is a very worthwhile work. Although some parts are hard going for the non-specialist, others are of value to anyone with an interest in Enlightenment esotericism and seventeenth-century English history in general. -- Clive Prince.


5.3.15

PAGAN DAYS

Philippe Walter: Christian Mythology: Revelations of Pagan Origins. Inner Traditions, 2014

In this extensive study of the Christian mythology that animated Europe in the Middle Ages, author Philippe Walter reveals how these stories are based on ancient pagan rituals and myths with little or no connection to the Bible. Walter, a French Professor of medieval literature, concentrates mainly on his area of expertise, primarily Celtic and Gallic material, with many allusions to earlier Indo-European themes.
 
With a highly academic approach, it makes rather heavy reading at times, although it does undoubtedly provide a very well researched, accurate and convincing historical argument for its basic premise. The book conclusively explains how and why certain ancient pagan festivals that were related to the changing seasons, i.e. solar and lunar cycles, were transposed into a Christian context. Obvious examples are Easter and Christmas, which need no explanation for readers of this review.
 
However, it is important to be aware of the advice of Pope Gregory to Augustine and his fellow missionaries sent from Rome to England to convert the heathen inhabitants of this blessed island nation. In a letter dated 596 AD, the advice was "to leave the pagan shrines alone, and try to introduce Christian worship gradually alongside pagan practices." In another direct quote from the book, "This involved Christianity's annexing of paganism's sacred sites (trees, springs, stones of worship)...and the Christian reformation of ancient mythology into a doctrinal context that conformed to the Gospels."

And so, as they say, the rest is History... -- Kevin Murphy


MAGONIA RECOMMENDS