I went up to New York this weekend to enjoy A Day of Conjure and Cunning Craft. It’s part of a concerted effort to de-hermit a little (I’m not great at it; when it comes to socializing, I’m cultivating dumb but dogged). Since I was already up there, I did a little out and about the city. There is a fair amount I want to talk about with that, but for this post I’ll just talk a little about the conference itself.
I often feel like the indigenous American contributions to global occultism get short schrift. In the early phase, they were concealed by the pseudo-ethnographic attitude taken by Europeans, the sort of exciting and titillating tales that fueled occult fantasies (much like the latter New Age fantasises, which are often built atop older layers of European fantasy) but not in a way that could be easily identified. This was compounded by the devestation wrought on the cultures by disease and imperial disruption.
This is going to be a very notebook-y post, riffing a bit around a common theme.
I recently picked up Erwan Dianteill’s study of the New Orleans Black Spiritualist churches, La Samaritaine Noire. He has a mind to position the spiritualist churches in the broader horizon of the Afro-Caribbean religious diaspora and he does that well. To do that, he starts out by contrasting the spiritualist churches with the hoodoo / rootwork doctors that the churches officially criticize. Which means we get a chapter discussing Zora Neale Hurston, Palo, and the intersection of the grimoire tradition and the African diaspora.
One of my all time favorite occult texts is Epistle 52 of the Brethren of Purity, titled simply ‘On Magic.’ It emerges from the same backdrop of Arabic occultism expressed in the Picatrix, perhaps predating and laying the basis for it. These texts not only get us out of the narrow corridor of ‘Western esotericism’ but provide us with a glimpse into ideas and practices that could have diffused along the length and breadth of the Arabic world. That is pretty crazy when you think about it–Arabic influence extended all over the Old World, from Africa to Europe, from the Middle East well into Asia and the Southeast Asian islands.