The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History

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61cgn4ef6olThe Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History, by art historian Christopher Dell.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Our belief in some form of magic runs throughout human history. In fact, in an increasingly rational and scientific world, the idea that occult or arcane knowledge can give us access to another, hidden reality is as strong and widespread as ever.

The Occult, Witchcraft and Magic is a lively and fascinating history of all things cryptic, mystic and other-worldly, beginning with the earliest evidence of magical thinking amid the gloom of a Palaeolithic cave, and ending in the bright light of our digital age and its newfound interest in paganism.

With hundreds of images drawn from rare and unusual sources, in-depth explorations of crosscultural themes and profiles of key figures from the history of magic, this is a bewitching and irresistible treasury of esoteric thought that will appeal to believers and sceptics alike.

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Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere. Wellcome, via Bildgeist

I stopped believing in Saint Nicolas (a kind of Santa Claus for children living in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) when i was 6. That same week and with the blessing of my wonderful father, i stopped believing in God too. And although i do miss Saint Nicolas, art, science and lots of staffies are all i believe in. But then came 2016. That baffling year. People dismissing scientific evidence and claiming that climate change is nothing but a big hoax, for example. Or urgently calling for Catholic priests to be trained as exorcists (apparently some 500,000 Italians request an exorcism every year.)

I’m starting to wonder if i am the idiot here. And if i’m the idiot, i want to be one who is better educated in the worldviews so many people seem to share. That’s how The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History ended up in my hands. A book about all things magical and occult to help me figure out why people turn to ideas and practices i can’t understand. A book to help me appreciate better a number of smart artists whose work i admire so much: Suzanne Treister and the Tarots she uses to weave together technology, future, unseen forces and counterculture. Or Aaron Gach, founder of the rather amazing Center for Tactical Magic. And maybe next time i visit an exhibition like Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, i will not need to lie and pretend that ‘Oh yes! Of course i know what a Ouija board is!”

I’ve just finished the book and i’m no closer to becoming a neopaganist. I’m also gutted to confirm that even the most sophisticated kind of magic will never explain 2016 anyway. However, i had a fantastic time learning about all things esoteric, ritualistic and alchemistic. Author Christopher Bell follows chronology, starting with Mesopotamian magic and closing on the contemporary rediscovery of witchcraft, adding plenty of inserts along the way to present the key figures and movements of the topic through times and geographical areas.

I can’t tell you whether or not this is a good book about magic because it’s the first time i read about such topic. But i can say that it’s a great reference guide to pick up and get the key facts on Zarathustra, the Golem, Zulu’s witch smellers, mesmerism or nephomancy. What i found most interesting in this book is the coexistence of science and magic inside the minds of perfectly reasoned and reasonable intellectuals. Isaac Newton was fascinated by alchemy, the Age of Enlightenment saw the boom of phantasmagoria, the advent of industrialization coincided with an interest for the Gothic and the macabre. Maybe the human mind is impervious to pure logic and sense?

And i’ll end this super quick review with the images! The glorious images i found in the book! See for yourself:

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Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere. Wellcome, via Bildgeist

V0015977 Shaman/medicine man, body paint, Australia Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 1. A shaman or medicine man with extensive body painting Worgaia, Central Australia. Process print. 2. A shaman or medicine man with extensive body painting and nose stick, Australia. Colour process print. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
A shaman or medicine man with extensive body painting and nose stick, Australia. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Image

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Akodessewa fetish market in Togo. Photo: jrwebbe, via Slate

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Akodessewa fetish market in Togo. Photo: jrwebbe

OUIDAH, BENIN - JANUARY 11: Egungun spirits perform during a Voodoo ceremony on January 11, 2012 in Ouidah, Benin. The Egungun are masqueraded dancers that represents the ancestral spirits of the Yoruba, a Nigerian ethnic group, and are believed to visit earth to possess and give guidance to the living. Ouidah is Benin's Voodoo heartland, and thought to be the spiritual birthplace of Voodoo or Vodun as it known in Benin. Shrouded in mystery and often misunderstood, Voodoo was acknowledged as an official religion in Benin in 1989, and is increasing in popularity with around 17 percent of the population following it. A week of activity centred around the worship of Voodoo culminates on the 10th of January when people from across Benin as well as Togo and Nigeria decend on the town for the annual Voodoo festival.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 136723721
Nigerian Yaruba Voodoo Spirits perform during a Voodoo ceremony on January 11, 2012 in Ouidah, Benin. Ouidah is Benin’s Voodoo heartland, and thought to be the spiritual birthplace of Voodoo or Vodun as it known in Benin. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

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Three Navajo in ceremonial dress, representing Tonenili, Tobadzischini, and Nayenezgani, the Yebichai war gods. Photo by Edward Curtis, 1904. From “Arts and Crafts of the Native American Tribes”

V0015993 Two Malayan exorcists dressed in elaborate ritual costume. H Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Two Malayan exorcists dressed in elaborate ritual costume. Halftone after a photograph by Wiele & Klein. By: Wiele & Klein.Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Two Malayan exorcists dressed in elaborate ritual costume. Halftone after a photograph by Wiele & Klein. Photo: Wellcome Image

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A New Orleans police officer holds a black wooden cross spiked with nails and special charms, 17 June 1949. Image

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Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Jade Rabbit and Songoku the Monkey King, 1889

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Turquoise mask representing Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of sorcery. Date unknown, The British Museum, London. Photo

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A table levitating during a seance with Eusapia Palladino, 12 November 1989. Bibliotheque National de France, Paris/Archives Charmet/BI

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The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, a plant once believed to grow sheep as its fruit

Inside the book:

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Previously: Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic, Kabbalistic Synthesizer, a ‘sonification’ of live macrocosmic phenomena, Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, KGB, CIA black sites and drone performance. This must be an exhibition by Suzanne Treister and HEXEN 2.0.

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