“All nations have their omens drear, Their legends wild of woe and fear.”
–Marmion by Sir Walter Scott (1808)
What better place to start our globetrotting atlas than London? England’s been the anecdotal realm of inter-dimensional elf queens and fairy-folk since time immemorial—and London’s been the country’s undisputed magical megapolis since Roman times. London’s transcultural currents of European, Asian, and African traditions no doubt contributed to its present-day position as a global capital of occultism. Yet a great deal of the city’s ‘occulture’ can be traced to the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.
One area in particular became (and remains to be) an incubator of magical activity: The West End. Marylebone was once home to a pre-Hogwarts school of wizardry and a sorcerer who moonlighted as an anti-pope. Westminster Abbey was the site of a midnight “daemonic” treasure-hunt. Bloomsbury was an artistic and intellectual hub, a haunt of occultists like Éliphas Lévi and W.B. Yeats.
Lévi (who reportedly summoned spirits on the roof of a Regent Street emporium) once lodged at a hotel on 57 Gower Street, just five minutes away from the British Museum. Today, the only thing that’s changed about London’s occultists is the fact that there are more of them—many more.
Traditionally magically-inclined persons have been partial to the god Mercury, the patron of thieves, small-time politicians, merchants, and artists. The following recipe however, is jovial (associated with Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods) to keep with this autumn’s magical animal: the stag.
Known since the Middle Ages as the lord of the forest, the stag also falls within Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s categorisation of jovial animals. The other ingredients in the meal (corn, turkey, buffalo, and grapes) are also jovial. Thus, the following recipe is both symbolically and literally a kingly dish (despite its misguiding name), fine cuisine for any noble-minded magician.
From Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book by Eliza Leslie (1857):
1. Squatter’s Soup
- Take plenty of fresh killed venison, as fat and juicy as you can get it. Cut the meat off the bones and put it (with the bones) into a large pot. Season it with pepper and salt, and pour on sufficient water to make a good rich soup. Boil it slowly (remembering to skim it well) till the meat is all in rags.
- Have ready some ears of young sweet corn. Boil them in a pot by themselves till they are quite soft. Cut the grains off the cob into a deep dish. Having cleared the soup from shreds and bits of bone left at the bottom of the pot, stir in a thickening made of Indian meal mixed to a paste with a little fresh lard, or venison gravy. And afterwards throw in, by degrees, the cut corn.
- Let all boil together, till the corn is soft, or for about half an hour. Then take it up in a large pan. It will be found very good by persons who never were squatters. This soup, with a wild turkey or a buffalo hump roasted, and stewed grapes sweetened well with maple sugar, will make a good backwoods dinner.
This issue’s atlas includes three fascinating areas that merit our undivided attention: The West Indies, Malta, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Black Sorcerer by Jean-Baptiste Debret (c. 1830). Image via the National Library of Brazil.
Obeah Sorcery in the West Indies
- Obeah (or Obi) is an umbrella term for a group of Africa-derived spiritual traditions that have been practised by Caribbean peoples since at least the eighteenth century. In colonial times, Obi-magicians specialised in charms, potions, and (allegedly) ritual magic. Laws were enacted to restrict their businesses, but Obi men and women managed to maintain their ubiquitous domination over the imaginations of many.
Some critics thought that they were the successors of Egyptian wizards—the infamous arch-rivals of Moses. In his Treatise on Sugar, Benjamin Moseley writes that “these masters could instruct even Frier [sic] Bacon and frighten Thomas Aquinas”. Possibly the most notorious of the Obi-magicians was the fabled Three-fingered Jack, a Jamaican militant who claimed to be impervious to bullets.
A Galley of Malta by Lorenzo A. Castro (c. 1680). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Islamic Magic in Malta
- Maltese magic has been studied in detail by Francis Ciappara and Carmel Cassar. However, in 2014, a project spearheaded by a research team at the University of Exeter uncovered seventeenth-century court documents about a Muslim slave who was accused of giving magical consultations to ordinary Maltese citizens and hospitaller knights. According to Professor Dionisius Agius, the slave, Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur, allegedly advised his clients on demonic evocations, love magic, and geomancy. What became of this mysterious sorcerer? Profesor Agius and the team will reveal all in their collaborative book in 2017.
The Pascagoula Singing River from Tichnor Brothers Collection (c. 1940). Image via The Boston Library.
Mermaid Worship on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
- In his book The History of Louisiana, Charles Étienne Arthur Gayarré gives the legendary origin story of the anomalous music that “hovers” over the Pascagoula River. Gayarré notes that the Mississippian Amerindian tribes believe that the music represents the ghostly cries of their mermaid-worshipping ancestors.
These aquatic people “lived chiefly on oysters and fish” and venerated a mermaid in a temple. On a fateful night in 1539, the sirenic goddess herself appeared and summoned a kind of fluvial tsunami. She sang an irresistible song, drawing the entire tribe to the river bank. After the crescendoing music subsided, the mermaid-worshippers drowned themselves. Given its sombre tone, Gayarré’s Atlantis-esque fable could have originated as an indigenous folk tale about the consequences of European colonisation of the Americas.
See what Thinker’s Garden Fantasts are doing next month!
- HOVE, UK: Bookish Supper Society talk and dinner. Where: 13, Brunwick Square. When: 2 November. Who: Featuring Essie Fox.
- LONDON, UK: Flux Exhibition. Where: Old Truman Brewery. When: 2-7 November. Who: Featuring Delphine Lebourgeois.
- LONDON, UK: Folk Macabre campfire storytelling. Where: Undisclosed location near SE15. When: 4 November. Who: Featuring London Dreamtime.
- LONDON, UK: Mudlarks and Connoisseurs exhibition. Where:
- LONDON, UK: Crystal Palace International Film Festival. Where: Virgo Fidelis School. When 15 November. Who: Featuring Anthony Lewis.
- LONDON, UK: Kayak on the Thames to the Thames Barrier. Where: Roundtrip journey from the Trafalgar Pub in Greenwich to Thames Barrier. When 20 November. Who: Hosted by Secret Adventures.
- GOUDA, NETHERLANDS: Art exhibition. Where: Galerie Honingen. When: 3-20 November. Who: Featuring Michiel Schrijver.
1. Agrippa, Heinrich. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Trans. James Freake. London: 1651.
2. Blaine, Delabere. An encyclopaedia of rural sports : or a complete account, historical, practical, and descriptive, of hunting, shooting, fishing, racing, and other field sports and athletic amusements of the present day. London: 1840.
3. Gayarré, Charles. The History of Louisiana: The French Domination. New York: 1854.
4. Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: 1994.
5. Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book. Philadelphia: 1857.
6. Moseley, Benjamin. A Treatise on Sugar With Medical Observations. London: 1800.
7. Scott, Walter. Marmion. Edinburgh: 1808.