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.



Synchronicity, and a persistent unexpected patron

Hi there, internauts; it’s been a while.  It’s full on summer now where I live, replete with the requisite heat waves, wildfires, power outages and the usual diluvian catastrophes.

Not all is chaos, though.  I mentioned a few posts back that the boy and I moved to a new place on Halloween night, and we’re settling into our home quite nicely, enjoying getting to know it some more with each new season.  We have a lovely, sprawling container garden taking over the back yard with squash, cucumbers, melons, beans, peas, radishes, potatoes, umpteen varieties of tomatoes and peppers, wonderberries, gooseberries, broccoli, greens, and as many herbs as I could comfortably fit into a giant round raised bed in the front.  The boy’s application of biodynamic agricultural techniques and square foot/companion planting plus organic compost tea have resulted in a surprisingly productive first attempt at urban farming.  Farm your yards!

The 2012 shift is shaking up plans and lives right and left.  Six of my closest group of eight friends are quitting their jobs and moving, with three returning to school for new fields of study, myself included.  Throughout the thrillingly disruptive process of breaking out of my cocoon for a new form, though, I’ve been surprised to notice a certain recurring element, and am taking comfort in the idea that this synchronicity is a sign that I am moving in the right direction.  This post is dedicated to that figure.

If any of you listen to the tremendous podcast Standing Stone and Garden Gate, you may have heard Brendan’s segment on the philosopher Hypatia back in 2010.  I had heard of Hypatia previously, but Brendan’s thoughtful and thorough exploration renewed my interest, and I found myself thinking more and more of this renowned mathematician as a sort of personal ideal and historical role model.  Her death, in my mind, made of her a martyr for the values of universal access to intellectual pursuits and freedom from the confinements of socially imposed gender roles.  Her position as the last librarian of the great library at Alexandria spoke to my devotion to the preservation and fostering of knowledge, and my undying love for ancient Egypt.

While reading about Hypatia, I started looking more closely at her relationship to the supposedly contemporary Christian Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a reputed student at that same great library, a formidable opponent in theological debate, patron figure for philosophers and libraries, and martyr from her desire to remain an unwed scholar.  The parallels between them, and the only much later appearance of stories of Catherine point to her being a Christian adoption/appropriation of Hypatia’s story.  Even the terrible wheel, the instrument of torture designed for Catherine personally by her persecutor, in descriptions eerily resembles the astrolabe created by Hypatia as an instrument for precisely measuring the movement of the stars and planets.

The more I learned, it was beginning to feel as though each detail of their lives was written as a personal appeal to my interests.  Catherine was enormously popular during the middle ages in France, particularly as she was one of two saints who  appeared to the young Joan of Arc, and at whose shrine Joan found her sword (be still my heart).  Even at Catherine’s execution, milk instead of blood flowed out of her wound.  (More on my ties to milk in a later post, perhaps.)  I started to suspect I was being deliberately led on when I looked at images of the traditional rings given to pilgrims at her shrine on Mount Sinai and saw that they are inscribed with my initials and that of the boy, surrounded by a heart.

All this led me here.  One night, the boy and I on impulse agreed to attend a late dinner out with some friends, although out of my usual custom for a weekday evening.  At this dinner, I was seated next to an acquaintance who randomly asked if we knew anyone looking for a place to live.  His parents owned a duplex on the other side of town, and they were looking to move someone in within the month.

The boy and I out of curiosity looked over the pictures on his phone, and found ourselves looking at what suddenly felt like “our home.”  We had been casually talking about moving for a while, but had not started looking in earnest.  We were no longer under a lease.  The landlords wanted someone who would be interested in gardening – we wanted a space to garden.  The house was blocks from the boy’s studio, and closer to our jobs.

The only hitch was that I had been planning to apply to a graduate program out of state for that next year, and the owners were looking for long term residents.  We had to make a decision that night.

I went straight home, and made one last effort to see if there might be a suitable program locally, but my hopes were not high.  I knew of only one in the entire state, and it did have the accreditation I insisted on.  But!  I discovered much to my surprise that the local program had earned the accreditation only months before, and I would never have thought to look again if it weren’t for this sudden opportunity.

What next?  We paid the deposit.  We discovered more and more things to love about this place.  We left on good terms with our former landlords.  I applied for the nearby program.

I picked up a book I had forgotten about, found again while unpacking from our move.  I had purchased it on a whim years and years ago, simply because the description on the back was alluringly unintelligible.  It had been shuffled unread onto donate piles time and again, but always held back at the last.  I got caught up in the story instantly.  I found myself cackling a bit with delighted disbelief when, several chapters in, the narration inexplicably launched into a several-page digression about the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The next morning I received my acceptance letter to the library and information science program at the University of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Where does that leave us?  In 17 days, I will be quitting the job I have held for six years that has no relation to my interests.  I will be escaping the cubicle to pursue my love of learning, and my love of helping others to learn.  I will be paying homage to Hypatia and Saint Catherine, who guided me here with expert and persistent ways.  And I will continue to stumble across the clues I didn’t know I was searching for on this ridiculous coincidence scavenger hunt that is my life.

Welcome to the next chapter, a digression on the lives of Hypatia and St. Catherine and this budding new librarian under their patronage.


P.S. While at a medieval studies conference this spring, shortly after I received my acceptance letter, I came across a new translation of the Life of St. Catherine.  More on that conference and a book review soon, I expect.  *g*


Because you were certainly wondering…

Many weeks ago, Mister Joseph Magnuson of the Candlesmoke Chapel ever so kindly included me in a Versatile Blogger post, with my humble blog tucked into a long list of intimidating company.  I have been having trouble lately putting thoughts into words for the blog, so I think I will at last go back to this and use it as a prompt to get something posted, even if it is just to say, “Hi!  I’m still here, and thanks for reading!”

Versatile Blogger Award

Per Magister Magnuson, here are the rules to the Versatile Blogger Award:

  • Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading
  • Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award

So, a big thank you to Joseph and Sara at the Candlesmoke Chapel (follow them on Twitter!).  And now to tackle seven things…

I don’t know why, but this popped into my head first.  Here are some of my favorite Yiddish slang words:

  • bashert — like kismet; soul mates, fate, destiny
  • chutzpah — hubris, sort of
  • kibbitzer — a “meddlesome spectator,” backseat driver
  • altvarg — a decrepit person or thing
  • ahntoisht — disappointed; the one thing worse than angry your parents can be
  • farshnoshket — in much less expressive terms, a drunk person

Although much of my family in recent history was raised attending progressive Methodist Christian churches, my mother’s family is reputedly of Jewish descent if you go back far enough, and in the last couple of decades, several of my aunts have converted to Judaism.  Maybe it was just from growing up in Goosetown, but I somehow became accustomed to smattering my speech with the occasional Yiddish color.  These are my Yiddish greatest hits.  Or something.  Also inspired by a trip to the library with my amazing cousin Izzy.  (“He’s stuck in the philanthropits!”)  Eh, moving on…

My proudest moment was winning a Twinkie eating contest during a Late Night Trivia event at undergrad.  I managed to get down three Twinkies in 30 seconds, then do 25 sit ups in the 30 seconds immediately following.  Intoxicated by victory, I celebrated by eating the rest of the box of Twinkies.

Some of my greatest memories and experiences have been linked to gastronomic feats, and I have historically loved weird foods (Braunschweiger was my childhood comfort food).  I am not shy about trying new things (birthday dinner highlights included escarole with anchovy and nutmeg), and I like to pass on to others the adventure of good eating.  To my knowledge, (at least since I have been old enough to think about it), I have only refused to try one meal, and that was a goat head during my study abroad.  Normally I would have been excited about it, but we had already eaten every other part of the goat for the two weeks prior (including the sea-creature-resembling stomach parts), I had seen the head sitting unceremoniously in a bucket day-in and day-out throughout that time, and I just hadn’t worked up quite the energy for it in time for breakfast.  I still feel rather guilty about that.

Although I will likely never give up my reign as the queen of fancy cheeses, hopefully, in small steps at a time, I am moving towards healthier adventurous choices.  Only recently the boy and I discovered a delightful recipe for non-dairy “Not-so cheese sauce” made primarily of almonds and pimentos.  Tasty!

Animal attraction.  I have a thing with wild animals.  No, not that kind of a thing, exactly…  Let me try to explain with some examples.  When I was still in the single digits, I called my mom to the front door to come see the squirrel I had brought home.  A live, unwounded, not rabid, adult squirrel cradled in my arms.  This earned for me the nickname “St. Francis” from my immediate family members.  In the summer as a teenager there was a chipmunk that would climb up and perch on my shoulder while I read outside, and sometimes he would ride in my hoodie pocket or in the cuff of my jeans while I went for walks.  In high school while on a camp out with some friends, I rose early to walk down to the lake, and got swept up in a run through the trees with a herd of deer.

There are exceptions, however, that bear mentioning.  I have identified a list of the top five scariest birds.  They are, in no order of preference: Nile shoe-bills, west African vultures, piliated woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and large murders of crows that move like a giant shadowy cloud.  I am fortunate to say I have only had too-close encounters with four of the five, thank goodness.  The fear is a sort of thrill, but I am still uncomfortable about wild turkeys, after the way they ganged up on me, and how they skulk around like they are covered in snakes… *shudder*  Oh, and I was once rushed to the hospital after being attacked by my own cats.  For the WIN!

I am a big nerd.  HUGE.  I was a laminated card-carrying member of a Fox Mulder fanclub.  To be honest, though, my X-phile status kept me out of a lot of trouble back in the day, when I was inside chowing down egg foo young and having viewing marathons with my other nerdy friends every free weekend.  In math class, we would finish our work early and list the episodes in chronological order.  Our lovely and talented teacher, who reminded me of Invisigoth from Kill Switch, would help us fill in the blanks.  As you can imagine, I was in love with her.

My intimate knowledge of X-files trivia did gain me some curious attention recently, however, when I was the only person in a large audience of a live comedy show to gleefully whoop and applaud at a mention of autoerotic asphyxiation.  Raise your hands, nerds, if this also puts you in mind of Peter Boyle and Chantilly Lace.

I love music, and I have aspired to keep it an active part of my life by picking up a series of musical instruments.  I started out tamely enough with 15 years of piano lessons, followed by a brief and frightening tour in show choir (the strangling sequins! clown makeup! a horrifying contraption called lollies!  jazz hands!!), retreated relieved into a small women’s madrigal choir, flirted with violin and guitar, then spun wildly off with the non sequitors of sitar in college and in the last few months, my beautiful concertina.  What next?  I’m thinking bagpipes.  The boy recently took up the glockenspiel, and I have to say that glockenspiel and concertina cover a mean Lady GaGa.

When my sister was little, she wanted to grow up to be a gas station attendant.  It must run in the family to have career ambitions that are falling out of fashion, because I recently applied for grad school to become a librarian.  (*Please, please let that happen!)  I didn’t always have that dream, though.  In second grade, on my birthday, I got to fill out a poster called, “All About Me!”  (Not unlike this blog post, really…)  Under the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question, I wrote in very large, round, pencil letters: “Veterinarian.  … or Parapsychologist.”

Later swayed by new passions, I prepared myself for a future as an archaeologist by teaching myself to read middle Egyptian hieroglyphs and immersing myself in ancient history.  And although fate had other plans for my studies (Practicality! Says the girl with a degree in French literature and medieval and renaissance studies), I still love studying dead languages.  Egyptian, Latin, Greek, Old English, Old French, Sanskrit, you name it… I have flashcards!

The weirdest job I ever had was milking sheep for cheese and soap making.  It didn’t bring in much money for my tuition, but I was awfully fond of the lambs, and I kind of liked mucking around in the barn.  It was also really relaxing to look into the wide vat of pure, fresh milk…

One of my current coworkers is fond of telling me that I have weird stories and I talk about things she never thinks about, but in my experience, there is nothing really new under the sun.  While at an academic conference for medieval studies last spring, I met a total stranger who was not only familiar with my obscure current field of work, but had actually worked on a project my company also handled, and when I asked him the strangest job he had ever held, he said, “This is really weird, but one year I made money by herding sheep…” and I got to say, “No effing way – me too!”

I am really, really clumsy.  I can fall down when I’m not even moving — and I have, on many occasions.  I once kicked myself in the head with a tap shoe while falling backwards down the stairs (while trying to demonstrate my “grace” by dancing for my grandparents).  Once at a birthday party, I got sucked down to the waist into a hidden mud hole, and the birthday girl had to recruit multiple adults to help pull me out.  I once smelled a perfume sample in a magazine, sneezed, and my contact lens flew out of my eye.  I hope I don’t die in some horrible accident, but knowing me, maybe it would be a little bit funny.  I wouldn’t mind that so much, if my death brought a little inexplicable chuckle to the world.

Alright, that’s seven, so we’ll leave it at that!

The original Versatile Blogger Award specified that it should be passed on to 15 blogs, but I am not dedicated enough to blog reading to even be familiar with that many, I don’t think, so I have instead chosen eight.  Here they are — go check them out!

  1. Magick and Mundane
  2. The Forest Witch
  3. New World Witchery
  4. Pagan By Nature
  5. The Juicy Witch
  6. Happily Essa After
  7. A Bad Witch’s Blog
  8. Ivy on the Path

I’d also like to quickly mention how much I am loving the pagan podcasting world lately.  To everyone out there who is taking the time and making the effort to produce shows for us, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You make my little world go ’round.

Thanks for reading!


All I have to do is dream, dream, dream…

Hi!  *waves*

I miss you.  Or my imaginary, personified version of you.  I’ve been seeing all these amazing posts at other’s sites lately, and it finally prompted me to just sit down and type, even if I have nothing structured to say.  So… here we go!

I’ve had a couple (or several) weeks spent working till anxious exhaustion overtakes me, but the cubicle stress has been offset by the pleasure of surprisingly witchy dreams to soothe me at night.  One in which I was enlisted by my aunts to do a dark working at that place special to our family, but they told me it would require digging up the graves of murderers on the property.  I told them that by my understanding I could just take some dirt from the graves to the same effect, and my cousin (the one I call “twin cousin” who shares my witchy flavor) said approvingly, “She really knows her stuff.”  (I do not feel that that comment was accurate, but it still felt very nice to hear, sleeping or awake.)  In the dream, I capitulated, and headed to a tiny witchy shop the size of a tollbooth to get some supplies.  The owner said to me as I was picking out my tools, “You have your amethyst, of course, for protection.”  I nodded, thinking to myself, um… no… so I decided to look at some amethyst jewelry as a backup.  Found some lovely and strange earrings, that I think I might ask the boy to help me make.  Tally of remembered protective amulets from dreams is now up to 2!

In another, after a fun little adventure in a cave deciphering sarcophagus hieroglyphs with my dad, and packing up crates of dark blue glass, I was sitting with my family in a golden field of tall grass making truly beautiful music I wish I had the ear to reproduce in waking life.  Mom suddenly swooned, and I rushed off to get a remedy for her, mostly consisting of sweetgrass, one white, and one red rose…

Around my birthday, I dreamt I bought an antique concertina with wrought iron handles that came with a musical journal/scrapbook written by the previous owner.  She had christened the concertina “Circe,” and her scrapbook was all full of glamourous ladies and death.  This, and the fact that I had by then dreamt of concertinas on numerous occasions oddly enough, prompted me to request help from my boy and parents to purchase a concertina for Christmas.  (I wisely settled on a less expensive but good quality beginner’s model, although I had a lot of fun browsing through the gold and rare wood ones…)  It is awesome, and I am so excited to be learning and playing music again.  It’s a challenge getting to know the button placement, but I have been practicing a little every day, and I’m already making playlists of songs I’d like to learn.  The boy is being sweetly tolerant of my honking, halting practice songs.  I now have a weird/awkward music corner with my concertina, my sitar and that baby-size classical guitar I dug out of my parent’s basement.  *claps*  All that’s missing are some bagpipes, and maybe a Turkish ney and some Orff instruments…

Oh!  I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I discovered a pagan friend at work!  It started with a conversation about bathing with flowers (yeah, I don’t know how we got on that topic either), and somehow we both asked enough vague, leading questions until we figured out neither of us had “whaaaa?” expressions when the other was talking about citrine spheres or smudging.  It’s kind of saving my work life at the moment.  I told him about my surprise serendipitous rendezvous this week in which I ran hastily away from work to catch a bus, missed it, and wound up at the library (which I thought was closed) drooling over a facsimile of a 1659 transcription of John Dee/Edward Kelley spirit channeling, then found THE book of sigils I had been wishing existed in the stacks.  I think we might take a little field trip after work one of these weeks so I can show them to him.

Anyway, new pagan work friend was telling me about some crazy dream effects he was feeling with amethyst and amber by his bed, so I took my amethyst beads I had picked up (after that protection dream, dontchaknow) and went to bed that night.  Dreamt that while walking through the country, the boy and I spotted a family hand dying wool in the most brilliant colors, spinning and weaving and knitting the greatest hats I’ve ever seen, and we decided to quit our “real” jobs and start raising alpacas.  We lived with my parents, and we had to keep a snake in the house to balance out the ecosystem… for some reason.  Mom wasn’t too thrilled about the giant green python sliding past her feet when she was in the bathroom, so we had to make it sleep outside the first couple of nights.  Somewhere in that same dream cycle I had an amazingly vivid still moment nose-to-nose with a horned stang that was quite wonderful, as well.

I don’t feel like I have been doing much that would earn me these dreams lately.  I haven’t done any rituals, no spellwork, no truly witchy reading (unless rereading “Mists of Avalon” is sufficient), no card consultations, not even any meditating or even  listening to many podcasts.  But who am I to look a gift horse – or alpaca – in the mouth?  I am loving it.  And I am finding a lot of inspiration in them for my non-work life that is making that other part we don’t like to talk about more bearable.

In case someone reads this and is inclined to respond, I’m curious what relationship others have with their dreams.  Do you remember your dreams?  Do you find overlap between your spirituality and your dreaming?  Do you take anything from your dreams and apply it to your waking life?  Dreams have kind of always been “my thang,” but I don’t know what others do with them.

So… I guess that’s about it for now.  Here’s a picture of my parents’ dog, just for fun:

Happy New Year!

Thanks for reading, and best wishes for 2012!


Return From Hiatus

There are a few days of darkness left in which to curl up and rest.  The seeds are nestled deep in the earth.

They were lifeless, devoured, abandoned, dessicated, and buried.  But in the dark and in the quiet there is warmth.  And warmth thrums with things ready to be born.

Soon the moon will begin to wax fuller, our cups will swell with milk and whiskey, and the sprouts will burst from the soil to claim the sun.

Patience pays off.  The anxiety I always feel at springtime, that sensation of having missed the train, is finally starting to wear down, and the snow is at last retreating.  The other day, I swear it made all the lawns around me look like sugary funnel cake.

And so the spring is ushered in!  Hope you all are well, and I look forward to sharing this blossoming season with you all. ^-^


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Ice Moon

Last Friday was the night of the Ice Moon.

It seemed like the drive was endless.  The snow was still deep in the city, and past the highway the moon was rising — swollen and glowing orange behind the trees.  It was hard to take my eyes off of it, but I had to watch the road.

Hours passed with quiet music and pleasant conversation.  The roads were clear, even along the icy shores of the great lake, churning under the moonlight.

About four hours after dusk we made our turn into the woods.  The road was suddenly invisible under the packed snow, and traction was more of a hope than a certainty.  We were lucky — the bridge was still in place over the rushing creek even after the heavy melt of the past week.

We crossed the bridge, and as we eased onto the right fork back towards our lot, we discovered that the road, in this neck of the woods, had turned to solid ice.  We made it over one slight hill only to stall on the next and slide back down.  As we contemplated our best plan of action, a visiting neighbor drove past on the left fork, didn’t quite make it, lost control, slid out into a spin and planted firmly in a snow bank.

It was time to seek some help.

Luckily, my partner and his friend had arrived safely at the cabin just ahead of us, since they were driving a four-wheel vehicle that tackled these frozen slopes with ease.  With no reliable cell phone service this far north, we had few options.  The cabin was about a mile deeper into the woods.  I set out on foot.  Alone.

I was grateful for the full Ice Moon — without her I would have been lost in the darkness.  Instead, my path was bright and blue and sparkling with cold.  The ice barely made a sound under my pounding feet.  But in the woods to my right, the pack was howling its welcome.  Their eerie song echoed in the hollow air, widening the empty space around me.  Despite my frozen legs, aching lungs, and the prospect of the labor waiting for my return, I couldn’t help but look toward the wild and mournful sounds, toward the moon, and smile.


Setting Out in September

Well, here we are!  Welcome to my very first post! September has barely taken its first breath, and already the chill of frost is seeping through my window screens. I try not to be hasty with the passing of one season to the next (a sure path to disappointment), but I will admit that I am looking forward to the joys brought on by fall. The bright-colored leaves, pecks of hand-picked apples, baked acorn squash with butter and brown sugar, a bounty of black walnuts… all of these together serve to soften, to some extent, the grief of a summer too fleeting. It’s a beautiful sadness, though, in my mind.

In honor of the turning, a poem by Ono no Komachi of the Japanese Court, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani:

Seeing the moonlight
spilling down
through these trees,
my heart fills to the brim
with autumn.