On Incunabula and Sorcerers in the Catholic Church

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I made a fun discovery while cleaning out my desk.  A few years back I purchased a page from an incunabulum (nerd word for early printed book, pre-1500) from my favorite book collector downtown.  It was dated 1479, and I mostly purchased it because a large capital Q in the middle of the page was illuminated to look kind of like a Hawaiian shirt, which I found simultaneously hilarious and beautiful.

I finally got around to mounting the page to hang up by my bookshelf, and while I was straightening the frame on the wall, a word in the text caught my eye.  Sortilegi.  My excitement grew when I saw, in the same paragraph a few short lines below, divinationis.

I quickly picked out a key phrase and punched it into the Google.  The one result confirmed my suspicion.

It turns out that the page I had purchased solely for its aesthetic value (shame, I know), is from a page of St. Isidore’s Etymologiae, a 7th century encyclopedia, and from a chapter on Magi and sorcery, no less!  I spent a few minutes bounding around the apartment in glee at this stroke of luck, and now I am looking forward to spending some quality time with it to decipher more specifics of what the text addresses.  I don’t expect it to be too friendly towards the sortilegi, given that Isidore was an Archbishop, but it might have some tantalizing details hidden between the lines of condemnation.

Speaking of practitioners under the eyes of the Catholic church, I have some very exciting news!  I was alerted that a local branch of the church was looking for someone to help out in their archives.  After a little more bounding around the apartment at the prospect of this opportunity and quickly dabbing on some Crown of Success oil, I emailed the contact person my background and interest.

All I can say is that batch of oil must have been potent, because in less than half an hour the archives director called me up with an incredibly friendly “you’re a perfect fit!”  *bound bound bound*

So on Monday morning, bright and early, I’ll be creeping down into the vault to check out the archives and meet the staff.  I am SO excited.

…Now if only I could find a similarly thrilling gig that will pay me.  Oh, well; all things in time, right?
I hope the words are popping off the page in wondrous ways where you are, too.



Splendors of June

One of the many pleasures of summer in my city is the antiquarian book fair.  I picked up a lovely volume this go-round with gorgeous illuminated poems, The Old Garden by Margaret Deland, “decorated” by Walter Crane.  First American edition, 1894.  Here’s a little snippet of “Summer” in honor of the season!

Plus some lovely flowers from the garden and my little “special corner” setup:


Daydreams and Dryads

On Midsummer I had a rather lousy day at work, but it was a beautiful rainy evening by the time I left the office, and I decided to blow off some steam by biking down to the lakes.  I was sprinkled by a sunshower as I left the house, that dreamy rarity of rain falling from seemingly clear blue skies paired with bright sunshine, and by the time I reached the first lake, the rain had stopped and there was a glorious rainbow right over the water.

Just off the bike trail I spotted a phenomenally radiant tree with broad fan sized leaves of the brightest apple green and bursting with white trumpety flowers.  I think perhaps it was a basswood of some kind.  The bark was soft and carved with tangled grooves, and its branches twisted about in spiraling asymmetry.

I pulled over off the trail, leaned my bike against the trunk, and settled down in the crook of the tree’s meandering roots.  Above me sprawled the whispering canopy of green and white, all dappled and translucent with evening sunlight, and if I looked ahead I had a perfect view of the rainbow over the blue waves.

My limbs were mighty tired, and I cuddled into my niche in the tree with grateful comfort.  I imagined myself stretching roots deep into the earth, sinking my body into the soft damp and warmth, and I realized I felt myself protected and curled up in the trunk just like All-kinds-of-fur.  (Only instead of hiding from the incestuous proposals of a king, I was simply trying to escape a stressful workday.)

Drowsy, I began chatting amiably to the tree, and I found myself saying, on observing the abundance of flowers she had produced, “My, you’ve been a busy girl, haven’t we?”  I chuckled at the diminishing distinction between myself and my bower.  I asked if she had any advice; she said, “Bend with the wind, and don’t be afraid to lose a few leaves even when you’re growing.”

We had a lovely little conversation, and eventually the evening grew cool and dim, and I determined I ought to be returning home.  I rode past the cemetery and the band shell towards the public gardens, stopped briefly to dip a leaf in the fountain to fan myself, and (in a passionate whim) walked backwards among the roses per the old superstition of Midsummer loves.

I soon made my way back home, and settled in late in the evening, having reflected on my little communion with the tree, I felt it would be a perfect time for a bit of bibliomancy.  So I pulled my beloved Orlando down from the shelf, closed my eyes, flipped to a page and placed my finger.  When I looked, I saw one word: Daphne.

My mythology is a bit rusty, but I knew the name had significance, so I looked it up, and you can imagine my delighted surprise when I was reminded that Daphne was a nymph who, to escape the lustful pursuit of Apollo, transformed herself into a tree.

As Ovid described it (translated by A.S. Kline):

“…A heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left.”

May we all run headlong into our moment of transformation this summer.



Cory over at New World Witchery just put up a splendid blog post on bibliomancy, the art of divination by text.  I was especially delighted by the idea of getting a personality profile based on your birth date from Proverbs 21 or 31.  I looked up the ladies’ chapter to find my own lot, and here’s what the Bible tells me about myself:

(15) She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.

I’m not entirely sure what to take from this, but I do have a tendency to wake up at odd hours and go directly to the kitchen. ^-^

At any rate, while I was cheerfully reading through Cory’s analysis, I found myself suddenly swept up in the memory of old Gabriel Betteredge, the servant in Wilkie Collins’ novel The Moonstone, and his obsessive dependence on omens gleaned from the book Robinson Crusoe.

I loved that this character practiced bibliomancy using such a well-known work of fiction, and I wondered about how one best chooses the vehicle for one’s divination, particularly when it involves text.  I thought about it for a while, and I decided I would most likely use Orlando by Virginia Woolf, which, though it bores many people I know to tears, I have been known to carry it around in a desperate loving clutch, and could spend happy hours rereading every passage.  I think it would work well too, in that its language is poetic, eccentric and esoteric enough that each phrase could present a fascinating exercise in interpretation.

I decided to do a little experiment and performed a trial run by pulling my dense old paperback copy from the dark, ruffling the edges of the pages with my thumb to feel for some sort of magnetic pull, opening to that spot, and without looking, sliding a fingertip slowly down the page until the spirit moved me to stop.

When I moved into the light, the following passage was revealed:

“…if we lie here long enough to ask the moths when they come at evening, stealing among the pale heather bells, they will breathe in our ears such wild nonsense as one hears from telegraph wires in snow storms; tee hee, haw haw, Laughter, Laughter! the moths say.”

I couldn’t help smiling as I read, and I took this to be a good omen — though perhaps a reminder not to take anything too seriously.  (Particularly omens!)

So pleased with this result, I’ve decided to continue consulting Orlando from time to time, and perhaps I will share my occasional bibliomantic “pulls” here on the site.

I’m curious, though…  If you were to select a book for your own bibliomantic practices, what book would you choose?  What qualities do you think make one book better for divination than another, or do they all have equal potential?  If you choose one book, do you have to keep using the same book, or can you consult any book at any time?

I’d love to hear what you think!  Comment on the post, shoot me an email, or even send a message on PaganSpace and tell us your prophetic book of choice.  If I get enough responses, perhaps I’ll compile a list in a new post, and we’ll see if there are any trends!

Until then, though, readers, I wish you happy dreams of twittering little moths, quietly chortling sweet nothings in your ears.


Wine and Spirits

“The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible, but there arriving, she is sure of bliss, and forever dwells in paradise.”




The image above is a scan of one page from a favorite copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that I came across by chance a few years back.  It is a simple facsimile of the priceless manuscript copy with jeweled binding that was lost with the sinking of the Titanic 99 years ago this April.  One of its creators, Francis Sangorski, also drowned in 1912.

The book of Persian quatrains looks unabashedly at Death, for having enjoyed a full life, one cannot shy from its restful counterpart.


But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a garden by the water blows…