Not the Monthly Post

The Astrologer of Narragansett Bay

A month ago I recounted the story of Johannes Kelpius, the German occultist who crossed the Atlantic in 1694 with his fellow initiates of the Chapter of Perfection to make a new life for themselves in the woodlands of eastern Pennsylvania.  That made a good starting point for the discussion I want to set in motion, not least because most people, when the subject of colonial American history comes to mind, don’t usually think about mysterious figures in brown hooded robes gathering to perform magical rituals in a temple in the forest.

That’s ironic, as it happens, because Kelpius and his fellow initiates were far from the only such group in the American colonies to find inspiration in the magical Christianity of Jakob Böhme and the original Rosicrucian manifestoes.  About the time Kelpius’ community was winding up its affairs, a similar organization got started in Ephrata, PA, headed by the German mystic Conrad Beissel. His followers pledged themselves to celibacy, a vegetarian diet (except for Sundays, when lamb was permitted), and lives devoted to prayer, studying the scriptures, and choral singing.  Like Kelpius, Beissel wrote his own hymns, and he also came up with a unique system of musical harmony he taught to members of the Ephrata community. People who visited the community and wrote about their experience described it as stunningly beautiful.

Beissel’s communal scheme proved just as transitory as Kelpius’, and lasted about as long after his death as the Chapter of Perfection did after Kelpius’ time.  Beissel’s musical system didn’t survive, either, though some of his hymns are still in existence. The magical Christianity that crossed the Atlantic from Kelpius and Beissel, however, lived on in the Pennsylvania Dutch community and became an important ingredient in the bubbling cauldron of American magic.  It was hardly the sole ingredient; on the contrary, that cauldron had plenty of other things bobbing around in it already.

Long before Kelpius’ time, for example, many Huguenots—that’s how you spell “Protestant” in French—fled to the American colonies to escape the persecution they faced back home in France. The first Huguenot community in what’s now the United States was near Jacksonville, Florida; it was founded in 1564, 54 years before the arrival of the Mayflower. It didn’t survive—the Spanish, who had even less tolerance for Protestants than the French government, sent an army and annihilated the colony—but later groups of Huguenots got the memo and sailed north to the parts of North America settled by English and Dutch colonists, where they were welcomed. That matters to our story, because a good many of the Huguenots who came to this country belonged to the same end of Reformation spirituality as Johannes Kelpius.

It’s crucial in this context to remember that the label “Protestant” applied to a much broader range of traditions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than it does nowadays.  Broadly speaking, the new Christian denominations that came out of the Protestant Reformation went in one of two directions. On the one hand, you had churches and individuals that tried to establish the same kind of dogmatic uniformity that the Catholic church enforced, but with some other theology in place of Catholicism; historians call this end of the movement the Magisterial Reformation. On the other hand, you had churches and individuals that rejected the entire concept of officially established dogma and trusted instead in the personal quest for knowledge of God. Historians call this movement the Radical Reformation, and for good reason.

The Pilgrims we all heard about in school—the ones who sailed on the Mayflower, set up a repressive Puritan theocracy on Massachusetts Bay, and hanged witches at Salem—belonged to the Magisterial Reformation. Not all the colonists in those days were on their side of the line, though. Even in Massachusetts Bay Colony, a great many colonists were more interested in personal liberty and a better life for their families than in toeing the line of Congregational theology.  Meanwhile, other areas of the eastern seaboard—especially Pennsylvania on the one hand, and on the other the southern end of New England, from Cape Cod west through Rhode Island to the Connecticut River—became a haven for the sects of the Radical Reformation. Rhode Island in particular, which established absolute religious liberty earlier than any other English colony, was a powerful magnet for believers in strange doctrines and practitioners of curious arts.

These sects have been erased from most accounts of American history just as thoroughly as the rest of this country’s weird heritage.  I’ve seen people get very flustered on discovering that Roger Williams—the founder of the colony of Rhode Island, the fiery religious revolutionary who thundered “Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God!”—was a Baptist. Of course they were thinking of today’s Southern Baptists, who have by and large swung most of the way over into the camp of the Magisterial Reformation, and not that long ago conducted a bona fide witch hunt against members of their denomination who happened to be Freemasons. Williams wasn’t that kind of Baptist; he was a General Six-Principle Baptist, and if you’ve heard of those, you’re a member of a small and well-informed minority.

The General Six-Principle Baptists believed that you shouldn’t be baptized until you were old enough to choose your religion for yourself. (That’s what’s behind the “Baptist” label, in case you didn’t know.) They held the six principles of Christian faith given in Hebrews 6:1-2, including conferring the priestly laying on of hands on every believer at baptism, and they taught that salvation was available to everyone, irrespective of creed—thus “General.” They held that faith in Christ is not the same thing as belief in a set of doctrines, focused on the former and didn’t worry very much about the latter, and made room for a great deal of diversity among their congregations.  Interestingly, they’re still around—like a lot of colorful American traditions, they had a near-death experience in the 20th century but came out the other side. You can find their website here.

Unlike their Puritan neighbors to the north, the General Six-Principle Baptists of colonial Rhode Island weren’t interested in hanging people for being practitioners of magic.  A significant number of them, in fact, were practitioners of magic. Since they and the other sects of the Radical Reformation embraced the idea of a personal quest for spiritual truth, it was inevitable that some of their members would take up the same sort of teachings and practices that Johannes Kelpius studied, and just as inevitable that Christian occultists who wanted to attend a congenial church would make a beeline for the sects of the Radical Reformation, the General Six-Principle Baptists among them.  As a result, as historian of American magic John L. Brooke points out, “the sectarian culture in and around Rhode Island harbored a disproportionate share of the occult knowledge in eighteenth-century New England.”

That was the milieu in which Joseph Stafford, the astrologer of Narragansett Bay, lived out his long and active life.  We know as much as we do about him only because his library and papers happened to be passed down intact in his family for more than two centuries, and were then donated to a historical society in Rhode Island. The preservation of his library was exceptional, but Stafford was not, and his life and career provides another vivid glimpse of the early days of American magic.

He was born around 1700 in the town of Tiverton near Newport—that was part of Massachusetts then, but the good Puritans in Boston finally got tired of trying in vain to force the folk of Tiverton to act like good Puritans, and handed the town over to Rhode Island in 1746. The son of a successful farmer, Stafford got an unusually good education by colonial standards, and like most intellectuals in early 18th-century America he became a jack of all trades—Ben Franklin is the example everyone thinks of, and for good reason. Unlike Franklin, who paid his bills by running a print shop, Stafford made most of his living as a physician, and his library was well stocked with the standard medical texts of the day, but he was also a surveyor, a writer of almanacs, and a professional astrologer.

Those of my readers whose knowledge of astrology is limited to newspaper sun-sign columns may not realize just what was involved in that last item on the list. Classical Western astrology is one of the four great mathematically based astrological traditions of our species—the others are Indian, Chinese, and Mesoamerican—and its roots reach back five thousand years to the mud-brick ziggurats of Sumeria, where priests noted down the movements of the planets on clay tablets and correlated the changes of the heavens to events on earth.  As century followed century, tentative hypotheses gave way to well-tested rules; birth charts more or less like the ones astrologers use today came into common use before 500 BCE; improvements in mathematics and astronomy and the sheer accumulation of practical experience led to steady refinements in technique, and to experiments in applied astrology, some of which became established disciplines of their own.

By the time Joseph Stafford first turned the pages of William Lilly’s The Christian Astrologer—that was the standard English-language textbook of astrology in Stafford’s time, and for more than a century afterwards—astrology had thus sorted itself out into a series of applied disciplines that shared a common basis in theory and mathematics. Natal or genethliacal astrology was the branch that studied the birth charts of individuals to predict their character and destiny.  Mundane astrology explored charts cast for the solstices and equinoxes at political capitals to gauge political trends. Electional astrology found appropriate times to begin important activities so they would be more likely to turn out as desired. Medical astrology used decumbitures—charts for the time and place a patient became ill—to guide diagnosis and treatment. Horary astrology read the skies the way a tarot reader studies a spread of cards, seeking answers to everyday questions:  How is my uncle in England faring?  Should I buy Goody Wright’s farm? Has my silver cup been stolen, or simply misplaced?  All of these were part of the stock in trade of a working astrologer in Joseph Stafford’s time.

All this had been standard practice in European cultures, in fact, from the time that astrology returned to Europe from the Arab world in the 12th century straight through to the late 17th century.  By the time Joseph Stafford began his astrological studies, though, astrology—like the rest of the Western esoteric tradition—was being shoved aside by new currents in intellectual life. Despite the usual rhetoric found in history books these days, the shoving wasn’t a matter of scientific rationalism overcoming the superstitions of the past. Something much more complex and much more political was going on.

The savage wars and social turmoil of 17th century Europe were driven in large part by conflicts between entrenched aristocratic elites, whose power rested on the old agricultural economy, and rising urban mercantile classes, whose power rested on the new economy of manufacture, trade, and investment. In religious terms, the aristocratic party supported whatever the established church was in their country, while the mercantile party tended to support one or more alternative sects produced by the Magisterial Reformation. In intellectual terms, the aristocratic party favored the old scholastic curriculum based on Aristotle and the classics, while the mercantile party favored what was then called the “mechanical philosophy” and we now call modern science.

There was, however, a third player in this game. The explosive growth of literacy in 17th-century Europe led to the rise of a class of self-educated skilled craftspeople who didn’t see any reason to support either of the two contending parties. In religious terms, this third class came to favor the independent-minded sects of the Radical Reformation, and in intellectual terms, they were eager students of the immense legacy of Renaissance occultism. Where they thrived—in western Germany and what is now the Czech Republic before the Thirty Years War, in Britain and the Netherlands straight through the century and beyond—religious alternatives and occult teachings flourished, and so did other ideas that the aristocratic and mercantile elites found intolerable.  It was this third class, for example, that gave rise to the radical sects of the English Civil War era, the Diggers, Levellers, Fifth Monarchy Men and more, who proposed such unthinkable ideas as giving the vote to all adult men, abolishing the privileges of the aristocracy, and even—how shocking!—granting civil rights to women.

The final stages of this three-way poker game varied from one European country to another. In France, Austria, and the southern half or so of that vaguely defined region known as “Germany,” the aristocratic party won, both the other parties were crushed, and the result was a state of political repression and economic stagnation from which they did not emerge until after the French Revolution. In much of northern Europe—Britain, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, and the northern half or so of Germany—the mercantile party won, the aristocrats accepted the inevitable and made peace with the victors, and the third party was crushed.  The de facto alliance between Christian orthodoxy and materialist science that resulted from this tangled history in northern Europe remained in place until the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and its echoes remain live issues even today:  fundamentalist Christians and rationalist atheists may not agree on much, for example, but bring up astrology or any other part of the occult traditions of the Renaissance and you can count on being denounced with equal heat by both sides.

There was, however, a way out for members of the third party who weren’t willing to accept total defeat, and it led straight to America. That was what led Johannes Kelpius and Conrad Beissel to venture across the ocean to make new homes in the American colonies, and it led tens of thousands of others who were followers of the sects of the Radical Reformation and students of various branches of Western occultism to do the same thing. Of course they weren’t alone; the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay weren’t the only sect of the Magisterial Reformation to head the same direction, and there was no shortage of people who crossed the Atlantic for reasons unrelated to spirituality and occultism. Even so, enough of Europe’s stray occultists headed this way to make a significant imprint on the culture of several of the original colonies.

That was why Joseph Stafford of Tiverton, practicing astrologer, could become a respected citizen of the colony of Rhode Island, a justice of the peace and a prominent local figure. As already noted, he was far from the only occultist to live in southern New England, and he was also far from the most prominent: to name only one example, John Winthrop Jr., the first governor of colonial Connecticut and a major figure in New England politics in the century before Stafford’s time, was a student of the entire range of Renaissance occult philosophy, with a library of occult classics many modern occultists would love to be able to afford. Winthrop lived during the last flowering of Renaissance occultism in Europe, however, and his occult activities in the colonies might best be seen as a reflection, in an American mirror, of the booming British occult scene of his time.

By contrast, Stafford lived at a time when astrology and occultism in general had stopped being socially acceptable in Britain and most of Europe—but not in Rhode Island, and not in several other colonies along the eastern seaboard. Each of the colonies that welcomed a significant number of occultists ended up with a different mix of teachings and traditions, largely for ethnic reasons. Pennsylvania got the largest contingent of German occultists, southern New England got occultists from the British Isles instead, while Huguenots settled all through the colonies from Virginia to Massachusetts but concentrated in coastal New York, with Manhattan and New Rochelle among their most important centers.

Joseph Stafford was a homegrown contribution to this process.  When he died in 1773, a local diarist, the Rev. Ezra Styles, mentioned “Mr. Stafford of Tiverton lately dead who was wont to tell where lost things might be found and what day, hour, and minute was fortunate for vessels to sail.” (The fact that the sea captains of colonial Newport, as hardbitten a collection of ruthless pragmatists ever to pace a quarterdeck, timed their voyages with electional astrology is a good measure of just now widely accepted astrology still was in Rhode Island in Stafford’s time.)  The same diarist, though, indulged in one of the common habits of the post-Renaissance west, the premature obituary for occultism: “In general the System is broken up, the Vessel of Sorcery shipwreckt, and only some scattered planks and pieces disjoyned floating and scattered on the Ocean of the human Activity and Bustle.”

Styles was quite wrong, of course, and so were all the others then and later who insisted that occultism was a thing of the past. The occult traditions that Johannes Kelpius and Joseph Stafford practiced had a lively history ahead of them—and so did a range of other traditions.  As we’ll see in upcoming posts, the high magic of the Renaissance practiced by Kelpius, Stafford, and other educated colonists were only one part, if an important one, of the magical heritage that American occultists had to work with. Other elements of that heritage came across the sea in less prosperous company—and some of those who brought it, of course, did not come to America of their own free will. We’ll discuss that, and much more, in posts to come.

176 Comments

  1. Hi Ecosophians,

    For those who are interested, my good friend Kid Krusty, a traveler, train hopper, and deconstructor of alternative living spaces for those who can’t make rent recently got one of his contemporary design articles published in the pages of Hobo Living, the premiere lifestyle magazine for the permanently laid off and those on the move. Since he is a fan of the Green Wizards website and of the practice and philosophy of Green Wizardry he consented to let his article on Alphabet City, a tent town beneath the latte-drinking high-rise-living bankers in Manhattan, be re-published on the Green Wizards website. If I say so myself, he really gets to the core of some of the problems faced by transients and tramps when they are trying to build an aesthetically pleasing house out of cardboard and corrugated tin. It is a fascinating read on contemporary trash picked architecture. Considering the discussions on architecture here previously I thought others might be interested. You can find the article below, and in the cheaply photocopied pages of Hobo Living available in a jungle near you…

    http://greenwizards.com/node/1149

  2. Wonderful history lesson! Two quick thoughts:
    1) “Rhode Island in particular, which established absolute religious liberty earlier than any other English colony, was a powerful magnet for believers in strange doctrines and practitioners of curious arts.” Hmm, that wouldn’t have any bearing on why an ex-archdruid landed there in the 21st century, would it?
    2) “Huguenots settled all through the colonies from Virginia to Massachusetts but concentrated in coastal New York, with Manhattan and New Rochelle among their most important centers.” Our current viral scourge is centered in precisely those locations. I wonder if this is more than coincidence.

    -RPC-

  3. What an absolutely fascinating post. Many thanks for writing it, JMG! One never fails to learn something new by visiting one of your sites. My best to you and yours during these chaotic times.

  4. Fascinating about the Diggers & Leveller’s coming out of the third tradition. This is a great story, and I’m sure will be an excellent book. Thank you for bringing this history to life. Thanks also for the lead on General Six Principle Baptists. Those kind of groups are very interesting.

  5. JMG, forgive me the second comment in such a short time span… I thought of a question, but if this is better asked during a magic Monday I will gladly wait! Is the primary problem with the aforementioned modern sun sign columns that they’re oversimplified/less well-informed than the likes of our Astrologer of Narragansett Bay? Or is there something more deeply flawed with the way these astrologers practice?

  6. HI John
    This is a little bit off topic, but sense Beissel was an astrologer, I have a current events astrological question. (if that is ok .. if not magic Monday?)

    There is a suppose to be a big bright comet (Atlas Comet) that will become visible in the northern hemisphere in April and shine in May, maybe even bright enough to be seen in the daytime. What would this comet represent in astrological terms?

    I know comets are generally seen as bad omens, this one is green in shade

  7. Hugenots. In Florida, of all places. Truly this is one of the more interesting states of the union. Oops — for a good chunk of the 19th century, Florida wasn’t IN the Union. But even so, it’s one of the three on my list: New Mexico and Rhode Island being the other two. Any other candidates? Besides New Orleans, which could be called a city-state.

  8. John,
    I was glad to read your mention the Huguenots and Jacksonville, FL as I grew up in Saint Augustine, FL just south of Jacksonville. Saint Augustine is the oldest city in the nation and the first town where the Huguenots fled to when they were persecuted by the Spanish.The fort on the Intracoastal Waterway where many of them hid out and where they were ultimately massacred was a popular destination for many a school field trip in my childhood (our teachers weren’t so concerned about “triggering” us in those days ;-).

    To this day, Saint Augustine is a hotbed of occultism (not all of it being the path of Light either if you catch my drift). The downtown area itself is laid out with Masonic and esoteric symbolism. For instance, the bay where the Huguenots were killed is called “Matanzas” (“slaughter” in Spanish). Right in the center of town, about two blocks from the local Lodge, there is a town square with an obelisk that faces east towards a bridge, known as the Bridge of Lions (guarded by two Medici lions with their paws on a sphere), that crosses over the Bay of the Slaughter to a island called Anastasia (resurrection) Island. So the solar lion leads across the waters of death to the island of resurrection. Cool right?

    I often wonder if growing up around these images planted the seeds in my subconscious that would eventually cause me to pursue esoteric studies. Thanks again.

  9. Justin, many thanks for this!

    Isaac, thank you. There’s much, much, much more to come.

    RPC, (1) no, it was a delightful surprise to me. I also didn’t realize that I was moving into one of the few parts of North America that have a significant number of megalithic sites. (2) Well, there seems to be some evidence that different ethnic groups vary in their vulnerability to the virus, so it’s not impossible.

    Ryan, you’re most welcome. One of my favorite hobbies is reminding people that the world is much less boring than the corporate media and the education industry want you to think it is.

    Justin, you’re most welcome. If you want to read more about the spread of radicalism and occultism among literate skilled craftspeople from the Elizabethan period on, Margaret Jacobs, Frances Yates, and Christopher Hill are good sources.

    Ryan, no problem at all, as it’s relevant to the post. Sun sign astrology is radically unsound, because which zodiacal sign your Sun was in at birth doesn’t actually mean that much in isolation from other astrological factors. To begin with, what house the Sun is in, what planet rules that house, and what aspects relate the Sun to other planets are crucial factors; furthermore, the Moon sign and the Rising sign, and the position, condition, and aspects of the planet that rules the Rising sign are all as influential in the chart as the Sun. It’s as though you were to claim to predict weather throughout the United States, and the only data you used for your predictions was the daily temperature in Toledo, Ohio!

  10. I’m not sure exactly what made this connection while reading the essay today, but I could hear Marx talking about history being a war between the aristocratic and proletariat classes, and with those ideas made a connection between the old aristocracy and urban mercantile. Through it all, as you have been oft to point out, there is a third, bridge between these binary ideas. With all the magical connections in our past, it’s exciting to think of America as being a potential bridge.

  11. Skyrider, I’m waiting eagerly for the announcement that comet Atlas has become visible to the naked eye; that’s the moment that matters for its astrology, as its place in the zodiac then will tell us much about its effects. (That’s supposed to happen around May 1, but we’ll see.) Since it’s green in color, it’s of the nature of Venus, which is good — comets of Martial character herald wars, and comets of Saturnine character herald plagues. I’ve got some texts on cometary astrology and will be searching out others in the weeks ahead; any predictions I make will be tentative at best, as the astrological implications of comets have received very little attention in recent centuries, but this is certainly an opportunity to learn more.

    Patricia M, upstate New York has a long and well-earned reputation as a place of high weirdness, so might be worth adding to that list.

    Ethan, fascinating. Many thanks for this — I had no idea.

    Prizm, exactly. Marx was noticing an actual phenomenon, but he got it sideways — basing your philosophy on Hegel will reliably do that.

  12. Dear JMG

    This is as good a posting as any to ask this: is there a collective name that the various occult and magic communities prefer? Do they consider themselves interconnected for any reasons beyond there minority status and the persecution that often comes with that status? Because of my work in tech on the West Coast, I’ve been lucky enough to have friends (and even more colleagues) who self identity as agnostics, atheists, Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, BaHa’i and even a few Zoroastrians. Despite the infinite variations within all of these groups, I’m comfortable with these terms but they are comfortable with these terms for themselves. You have been my sole entry point to these belief systems since my late twenties. I know very little about these communities but I find them fascinating and I’d love to learn more.

    Last month, The Atlantic had, what was to me, a fascinating piece titled, “Why is Witchcraft on the Rise?” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/witchcraft-juliet-diaz/605518/ (For those what like short-form documentaries, The Atlantic Series has a short video attached to this article called, “Pagans: The many faces of the Occult.”) So JMG, and any other practitioners reading this, I’m very interested in your take on this piece. To your lived experience, it is accurate, prurient or something else entirely?

  13. Do you know if the Mennonites/Amish have any interesting relationship with American occult history?

  14. John,
    a fascinating jaunt through history. As a side note, can you recommend any references that describe how the emerging mercantile class in the industrial revolution basically forced people from the country to the cities to work in the factories? I’m asking because it was a significant influence in people migrating from Britain to Australia and I’m wondering if it was one of those factors that was also at work in the process that you described that led large numbers of Europeans to migrate to the Americas.

  15. Well, clearly I need to do some research, as I’d never heard of the General Six-Principle Baptists, and it sounds like the sort of Christianity I might be interested in. It’s absolutely amazing how much of the history of North America has been erased; sometimes I wonder just what sort of things might’ve happened in earlier eras that we just don’t know, since it got the same treatment as American Occultism did…..

    I also find it fascinating Hegel was so influential: in addition to producing one of the only systems of thought which is reliably wrong whenever applied, his writings are also nearly incomprehensible. I just can’t figure out how he could’ve become so important to the history of philosophy….

  16. Fascinating! I know you’re writing about the history of occultism in the US, but are there any similar threads in eastern Canada that you’re aware of, specifically in the Maritime provinces? I wonder if there were similar pockets of communities more friendly to occultism up here.

  17. Thanks for this fascinating series of posts. A significant portion of my ancestors were from (modern day) southwestern Germany and immigrated to eastern PA in the 1730s. I wonder if there’s any way to determine if they were occultists or involved in more radical forms of Christianity. Maybe gravestones or death certificates (not sure how far back those go) would give a clue; they are not likely to be in any history books or newspapers. More broadly, my more recent ancestors on both sides seem to tend toward minority sects (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Salvation Army), so it could be a family trait.

  18. I hopped onto the website of The Huguenot Society of America and discovered that “Apollo Rivoire, a goldsmith, was the father of Paul Revere, master silversmith and renowned patriot. George Washington, himself, was the grandson of a Huguenot on his mother’s side.”

  19. I am sorry to report that I saw a blog post the other day saying there are signs that Atlas may be breaking up. Let’s hope that’s incorrect.

    A while back I asked about where the heck the Second Baptist Church was, since every town has a First. Well, when I was reading the list of closings I saw that the THIRD Baptist Church would be closed because of Coronavirus. That means there’s only one left to find, the rarest of the rare…

    SAM: Look, Mr. Frodo! There it is! I never really believed in it, but there it is!

    FRODO: Mount Doom?

    SAM: No! It’s the FOURTH Baptist Church!

  20. JMG, I love obscure history. I am happy to learn there is much more coming.

    Other obscure-history fans may want to sign up for the Atlas Obscura newsletter.

  21. Stone chambers – amazing! I thought the standing stones etc in Weird of Hali were fictional until I saw that website. No, I have no trouble believing that they were built by whatever tribes were living in those regions – the structures have been carbon-dated, haven’t they? Those parts than can be, such as the wooden doorway parts.

    And I’m not altogether certain that Leif Ericsson was the first European on the shores of Vinland. The story of Brendan the Navigator includes not only a very obvious trip up into the arctic, including the “giant moving islands” etc, but reads as if he drifted down the current into some very balmy southern regions and then back home … I’d have to check a map of the currents in the Atlantic to be sure. Though a little coracle making that sort of voyage counts as a miracle in its own right. And Brendan is commonly assumed to be a visionary, and writing in the Irish tradition of fantastical magical islands somewhere out in the Atlantic. (Irish fantasies could be extremely strange.)

  22. I am really liking this new series of post. They are just really fun. What I am struck with is how American this all feels. I did not know very much about any history like this before but it really feels like normal American stuff. I am friends with some seventh day Adventist families. They don’t descend from the groups mentioned in today’s post but they are weird in an American way. Like the groups mentioned so far are weird in an American way.

  23. @JMG: Then would you say that the liberal capitalist Hegelianism espoused by Francis Fukuyama also gets it wrong? Or was the mistake of Marx simply in assuming the wrong side would win and bring about the final stage of history?

  24. JMG, Thanks for another very interesting blog post. I can’t wait to see where this train of thought is going!

    I just finished listening to your equally interesting conversation about our current situation on the Hermitix Podcast. Thank you for that as well!

  25. Through these series of explorations of magical fringes which helped developed American society, are you suggesting that America has a unique opportunity to embrace more of a magical society?

    Considering how well this aspect of American society is hidden, it already appears as if this aspect is brought out to the rubbish pile. A quick Google search on Joseph Stafford of Tiverton revealed nothing of his astrological and/or occult connections. It must take years to uncover these hidden truths.

    I don’t find it impossible that the magical will have more of a place in American society, but with both sides of the other ends of the spectrum doing such a good job in diverting attention and/or hiding the information, it is a huge undertaking. This country has seemed though to have provided many opportunities for revelations.

  26. Also really liking these posts! And General Six-Principle Baptists may be the best religious subsect name ever. It’s very Lake Wobegon-sounding.

  27. KevPilot, these days, no, there isn’t a convenient label for the various occult-themed religious and spiritual minority groups. I wish there was. Some of us like “occultist” — that’s the label I use, for example, at least as often as Druid — but we’re an independent-minded and persnickety bunch, and tend to shy away from any hint of uniformity.

    Aidan, not to my knowledge. The German magical traditions among Pennsylvania Dutch are as far as I know passed down among the “fancy Dutch,” not the “plain Dutch.”

    Stuart, I’m not famiiar with the literature on the subject, but the general histories of the 18th and 19th centuries that I’ve read say that yes, the destruction of Britain’s rural economies and the rise of the factory cities was a massive factor in driving immigration to the US from Britain. There’s a famous painting by Ford Madox Brown, “The Last of England,” showing a working class couple on ship watching their home recede into the distance:

    Kevin, history is full of fascinating things that the corporate media and the education industry don’t talk about. As for Hegel, Schopenhauer’s theory was that Hegel deliberately strung together long sequences of words that don’t actually mean anything, with the goal of convincing people that he was so profound nobody could understand him. I have to say that makes more sense of The Phenomenology of Spirit than any other analysis I’ve ever encountered.

    Jbucks, I have no idea; it’s not that easy to get books on Canadian history on this side of the border! You might want to look into it.

    Ip, you might well be able to find church records. Look for historical societies that deal with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and genealogy, and see what you turn up.

    Someone, the Huguenots were a huge loss for France and an equally huge gain for the colonies — they tended to be well-educated and many were skilled craftspeople.

    Your Kittenship, in the south and midwest, the First Baptist Church was where the white people worshiped and the Second Baptist Church was where the black people worshiped. When Sara and I were in Cumberland MD, our house was two blocks away from the Second Baptist Church, which was a very lively church with a multiracial congregation. I don’t know who would go to the Third Baptist Church, though!

    Patricia M, there’s a book you might want to read one of these days, The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. The Irish curraghs of Brendan’s time weren’t small — 20-30 feet long with masts and substantial cargo capacity — and Severin was one of a group who built one and sailed it across the North Atlantic. I’m quite sure that the Irish made it, and there’s very good reason to think that they weren’t the first by a long shot.

    Will O, exactly. One of my goals in these posts, and the book that’s going to evolve out of them, is to get people to notice and appreciate our homegrown American traditions of high weirdness.

    Ashara, I spent a couple of years making fun of Francis Fukuyama back on the old blog. His liberal capitalist Hegelianism was just as wrong as every other kind of Hegelianism, from Marx straight through to Giovanni Gentile, the pet philosopher of Mussolini’s Fascist regime. The problem is with Hegel himself; The Philosophy of History is the kind of thing that you’d expect a bright but poorly informed ten-year-old to come up with, and it’s essentially unique in its capacity to inspire inaccurate predictions about the future.

    Let me toss you a question in response. Do you think there will be a final stage of history? If so, why?

    Btidwell, you’re most welcome and thank you.

  28. Prizm, I don’t know that I’d say “unique,” but America has a very rich occult history and there’s been quite a bit of scholarship about that in recent years. Very little of that scholarship has yet found its way to a wider public, though, and that’s what I propose to do. I think we’ve reached an inflection point in the history of the occult scene here in the US; a lot of people are interested in something other than the overwhelmingly Eurocentric narratives on which Neopaganism and the like are based, and every time I’ve brought something out of the dumpster of American occult tradition, it’s found an enthusiastic welcome. I figure it’s time to see just how far that will go.

    Isabel, it is indeed. One nice irony is that I invented the Old Independent Liberal Baptist Convention of New Jersey for The Shoggoth Concerto before I’d ever heard of the General Six-Principle Baptists!

  29. Regarding Canadian history, a good symbolic pivot is 1967, Canada’s 100 birthday, when the cultural elite shifted from the notion of Canada from being at the forefront of British loyalism to the forefront of liberal cosmopolitanism. A shift that the nationalism scholar Eric Kaufmann has compared to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

    Here are two good books representing before and after:

    https://books.google.ca/books/about/Toronto_the_Belfast_of_Canada.html?id=7b0jCQAAQBAJ&source=kp_book_description&redir_esc=y

    https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Other_Quiet_Revolution.html?id=-rrwTFRLmd4C&source=kp_book_description&redir_esc=y

  30. “There was, however, a third player in this game. The explosive growth of literacy in 17th-century Europe led to the rise of a class of self-educated skilled craftspeople who didn’t see any reason to support either of the two contending parties. In religious terms, this third class came to favor the independent-minded sects of the Radical Reformation, and in intellectual terms, they were eager students of the immense legacy of Renaissance occultism. Where they thrived—in western Germany and what is now the Czech Republic before the Thirty Years War, in Britain and the Netherlands straight through the century and beyond—religious alternatives and occult teachings flourished, and so did other ideas that the aristocratic and mercantile elites found intolerable. It was this third class, for example, that gave rise to the radical sects of the English Civil War era, the Diggers, Levellers, Fifth Monarchy Men and more, who proposed such unthinkable ideas as giving the vote to all adult men, abolishing the privileges of the aristocracy, and even—how shocking!—granting civil rights to women.”

    My eyes light up as I read this passage and I immediately think of the copy of Christopher Hill’s ‘The world turned upside down’ sitting next to me in my drawer.

    This is again why I am grateful for your blogs. When I read that book for the first time I felt in my gut that it represented a kind of third way between the old elite and the plutocratic elites, not just in political ideas but also magic. I’m going a little off topic here I know, but would you agree that the diggers represented a kind of agricultural syndicalist democracy based on restoring common ownership to the landless proletariat? that’s sort of my understanding of them away.

    Just a couple of nitpicks too. I’m not sure the Diggers or Levellers advocated female suffrage (though I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about that). Also, Robert Tombs ‘A history of the English speaking peoples’ argues the English civil war was in practice a much less uniformly about the Merchants v the Aristocrats. It was far more chaotic than that. (a little bit how the American war of independence was much less about ‘Liberty’ in practice than is claimed in retrospect) Although its certainly true the Mercantile elites benefited greatly from the ultimate triumph of parliament.

    Sorry hope I’m not too far off topic.

  31. @Aiden my mom’s family is mennonite and I recently moved to a rural part of NY with a lot of Amish and as far as I know, there’s not much overt magic or esotericism in the “plain dutch”. Though I did have dream where a grandmother figure came to me. I knew she represented my mother’s maternal line, and she had deep magic. So if there is some, which I think there probably is, it’s truly occluded.

  32. Well, if we classify the independent persnickets as 3rd Baptists, that leaves 4th Baptist as the assembly for…shoggoths! Which is why 4th Baptist is famous for its Polenta Potlucks!

    I once read a very funny article rating the religions by their potlucks. I think the Presbyterians won. My church was way down the list. I don’t think paganism was enough of a thing then to even rate a mention, so the Ecosophia Potluck has an excellent opportunity to outdo those Presbyterians.

    If I can ever spend money on a trip to Rhode Island instead of on boring things like the roof, I’ll bring the wonder of the potluck world, Kitten Potatoes. (Made strictly of potatoes; no kittens are harmed in the making of the dish.). 4 ingredients and quite rich, which is what makes it the ideal potluck dish—they’re all satisfied with a serving spoonful.

    Next year in Providence!

  33. Stuart Braid–in many areas of Great Britain sheep raised for wool were a more profitable use of land than growing grain. Starting in Tudor times and increasing in Stuart times landlords cleared the land of peasant farmers in favor of sheep. Combined with the punishment of Scots supporters of the Stuarts this sent many to America. In other areas enclosure acts transformed the countryside. In medieval practice any given manor had areas of arable land, areas of meadow, and woodlands. The arable land was divided into strips allotted to various families in such a way that everyone got a share of good and of less desirable land. Crop rotation followed traditional patterns of grain/peas/fallow and everyone had to go along with it for the system to work. Meadows provided hay and woodlands provided firewood and some wild plants. As new crops and plans for rotations were introduced landlords advocated for the right to merge the fields for greater efficiency. This usually required an act of Parliament. With the land producing more food with less labor and the former peasants deprived of the ‘commons’ Great Britain had both a workforce available for the factories and the food to support them.

    [it’s 1970–our protagonist slips into a nap while working on a history term paper on the enclosures in England. She dreams that someday there will be a mysterious means of sharing information with people all around the globe. Tidbits from this term paper will inform a comment on a blog (what’s a blog?) written by a Druid? — gotta knock off the sunflower seeds. They give weird dreams]

    There has been a lot written about enclosures since that long ago history class. Especially more class conflict analysis. Hadn’t been much of that when I was an undergraduate because most liberal arts programs in the US were filled with professors who were frightened of being labeled as communists if they did such studies. That changed as post McCarthy generation gained tenure.

  34. JMG, as you so often do, you have taught me something new today. I’ve lived in the South (well, Southwest) all my life, was raised Baptist, and had never thought to ask why it was always called the [City Name] “First” Baptist Church, instead of just the [City Name] Baptist Church.

    As for the Third… congregation grew too big and had to split into another building? Minor doctrinal dispute between two would-be pastors, both well-liked? Who knows?

  35. That’s definitely a good way to help encourage the development of our cultural identity. Perhaps some stories, alternative fiction of what could have been to help plant more ideas of what might be?

  36. Beissel and the Ephrata Cloister are very significant in Amish/Mennonite history: they translated and published The Martyrs Mirror, a central book in that tradition. It’s a huge book – the size of an unabridged dictionary–and almost every Plain household has a copy. I had read large chunks of it before I was 10.

    The pow-wowwing (Braucherei) tradition still exists in parts of the Amish/Mennonite world, but the part I grew up in was very hostile to it.

    To some extent, I’d argue that the Amish and other Plain traditions have their own “magic.” They manage to maintain a visible alternative to the English world that surrounds them–they change the world by being themselves. And I can say from my own experience that their rituals (baptism, communion, excommunication) have a fairly strong effect on those participating.

  37. I’m greatly enjoying this series – growing up in the region of Pennsylvania I’ve long been aware of various groups that had views quite different from usual homogeneous historical whitewashing. The mixture of the more well known Quakers, Anabaptists and Moravians gave this region a unique character, but there were some others that got lost to time, and I appreciate you bringing some of them back to light!

  38. @Patricia M: JMG has already mentioned The Brendan Vogage: there is a neat little explainer about Tim Severin, the journey he made to recreate Brendan’s voyage, and Saint Brendan himself here.

  39. lp:
    Best resource around for researching the Pennsylvania Germans is the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center affiliated with Kutztown University. They have the most complete collection of documents and books pretty much anywhere.
    https://www.kutztown.edu/about-ku/administrative-offices/pennsylvania-german-cultural-heritage-center.html

    Stuart Braid:
    I’m not sure this is exactly what you’re looking for, but Joanna Brooks’s book, “Why We Left” is an outstanding account of why ordinary working and poor people left Europe (focus on emigration from England) and the extraordinary hardships they experienced both in England and in America in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the sort of history that isn’t often taught in school so the book was a real eye-opener for me; I knew that conditions in the Old Country were bad, but I don’t think I fully understood how really bad it was until I read “Why We Left”.

  40. BB, Christopher HIll’s book is a really good starting place for that end of things. There’s also at least one good book on Gerrard Winstanley, the chief theoretician of the Diggers, whose economics were based on alchemical thought and who came up with a labor theory of value a couple of centuries before Marx. I don’t at the moment recall which of the little fringe groups of that time supported the granting of basic civil rights to women — I’d have to go read up on that — and yes, I know the English civil war was a tangled mess; civil wars generally are. My comments were intended as a very general summary.

    Your Kittenship, I’ll look forward to Kitten Potatoes someday. The Free Baptist Church in Arkham, as noted in The Nyogtha Variations, ends up with quite a few shoggoths associated with it, so you may be right about the cheese polenta at the potlucks!

    Brendhelm, a lot of people don’t like to talk about it these days, but if you know anyone who attends a Second Baptist Church, they’ll be likely to explain.

    Prizm, now that I’m finishing up the last novel in my tentacle series — 20k more words and it’s all out the door — I’m beginning to scope out the next major fiction project. The details aren’t yet clear, but American magic and its history are going to be central to it. Mind you, if you decide you want to write something with that as a theme, by all means get to it — there’s room for plenty more.

    SamChevre, I try to draw a line through the admittedly vague boundary region between religion and magic; if the plain Dutch still have potent religious ceremonies, excellent, but magic qua magic is something a little different. That said, thanks for the info about plain Dutch magical practice; all the groups along those lines I’d heard of were hostile to magic, but it’s not a complete surprise that there are some that aren’t.

    Twilight, delighted to hear it.

  41. oh yeh Christopher Hill Definitely mentions at some point the role of women being discussed at the time. I forget how far that discussion went though…

  42. @JMG,

    Such an interesting post. I could see you hosting a Patreon-based podcast along the lines of “Ben Franklin’s World” on early American history, from your viewpoint of course. Thanks for taking the time to research.

    On a related note, a trend now is for Americans to get DNA tests and research genealogy. It’s an interesting trend in of itself (people searching for some thread to prove that they’re NOT typical Walmart Americans) Anyhoo… I was one of the suckers who spent $100 to find out I’m a 99% Walmart American… but I did find a some interesting tidbits.

    I have Quaker ancestry via one John Hart, an immigrant from Whitney, Oxfordshire, apparently a somewhat prominent man in PA colony. Some of his ancestors went on to settle North Carolina and were recognized as pioneers and prominent townspeople. Some of their ancestors later drifted to Texas and Oklahoma, and eventually to California, hat in hand, as Okies, after the Dustbowl. And so here I am.

    That’s not an unusual heritage in of itself, but my “ethnic” story up to that point was that I was a product of hard working Italian & German immigrant factory workers from the 1900s. My family had nothing to do with the nasty conflicts prior to that and didn’t owe anyone anything. Blue collar pride and all that. Nothing incorrect or wrong about that per se, but I had to revise that vague identity to include my significant “Southern” branch who may have owned slaves at some point. American history is complicated if you care to look under the covers, even a few decades back. Hyphenated identity is futile.

    And, despite the navel gazing, genealogy can bring history down to Earth. Have you researched your own genealogy?

  43. Hi JMG,

    Thank you so much for this series of posts. I’m loving them and looking forward to more.

    RPC: I hesitate to comment on C-virus lest I turn this into a virus fest, but I have a small amount of knowledge here, as I have a B.A. in history and have a long-standing interest in disease history. As far as anyone can tell, you’re absolutely right in that pandemics often effect groups and ethnicities differently, but often shows differential death rates on even smaller scales. Case in point, Spanish flue, which killed people in Western Europe and the U.S. far less than in South Asia. Even there, it might kill 10 percent of one village and 90 percent of another. Having said that, the working hypothesis for C-virus among the scientists I’ve talked with or heard speak, is that NY and Florida were hit hard initially because they are major destinations for tourists and/or business people. As a result, they had multiple seeding events, giving the virus a major head start in spreading. This is particularly true for Italy, which is (apparently) an uber major destination for Chinese tourists.

  44. @Lady Cutekitten-
    I thought for a moment about boldly asking for the recipe for Kitten Potatoes- they just sound so… cute!- but I decided that more delicious ways to consume starches are probably not what is needed in my household at the moment, given the current circumstances. There has already been an unusually large amount of baking going on. Probably best that we focus a bit more on those spring greens for a while. Unless, of course, Kitten Potatoes just happen to make a wonderful accompaniment to a nice mound of sautéed chard with spring onions? (Licks lips hopefully)
    –Heather in CA

  45. Stuart, Rita and JMG (if you’re interested)

    The subject of the enclosures is something I have read up on and studied extensively. In short what you learn is how the basic patterns of colonisation were practiced first on the native english population, then on their Celtic neighbours then in all the colonies of what became the British empire (people who are deprived of their land and therefore means of substance have much less freedom to voice subversive opinions. I reckon we’d have a lot more discussion of magic in society today if people felt more secure politically and economically!)

    Its forgotten these days, but alongside the magna carta there was another charter called the Charter of the Forest. Basically it limited the degree to which the Norman Aristocracy could turn common land into royal forests reserved for aristocratic hunting purposes, and guaranteed rights the resources in the commons. From a hierarchal perspective the forests were particularly important to control as they are synonymous in the english mind with freedom (think of Robin Hood and his merry men!!) The emergence of the phenomena of the landless proletariat becomes a major social problem in the 15th century due to sheep farming (more money to b made) replacing more labour intensive agriculture. This is further exacerbated by Henry VIII closing the monasteries, and with it vandalising the many sacred shrines like trees holy wells and other sacred suites ripping many of the english peasantry away from a a more ‘indigenous relationship with their land and nature and forcing them into the more materialistic capitalist system. Destroying scared sites is something that would be repeated in colonies of the British empire. Something like 60% of england was already enclosed by 1600, rising to 75% by 1700 and the process was completed by the early nineteenth century, creating along the way the vast supply of industrial labour, colonists and soldiers for the army and navy all helping to expand the borders of the empire.

    I sometimes think the inability or unwillingness of many english descended people (myself included) to deal with a living magical world comes from the fact that the nature religion of England was wrecked many hundreds of years ago… (they stuff it into the wardrobe of Narnia or Middle Earth!)

  46. I mentioned “Occult America,” by Mitch Horowitz, very late in the comments on the last post in this series, as I think another commenter may have done as well. It made a great intro to the topic to get me primed to hear more from JMG, and I’d recommend it to other interested folks. It even has a full chapter on Manly P. Hall, whom JMG has mentioned in the context of the helpful end of the “New Thought” movement.
    –Heather in CA

  47. John Michael Greer wrote, “One of my favorite hobbies is reminding people that the world is much less boring than the corporate media and the education industry want you to think it is.”

    Good lord, is that ever the truth! How dreadfully dull they make everything they manage to get their hands on. Thankfully, they’re too afraid to touch anything actually occult, so they just keep turning out witchy fetish wear and Hogwarts action figures. Might they wake up enough to notice we exist and pose a considerable threat to their dull hegemony, or will they go through their entire decline trajectory blissfully unaware that magic is sprouting back up everywhere they tried so methodically to stamp it out?

    Voluntarily self-enforced ignorance is a wonderful trait to discover in an opponent (I do hope I’m not plagiarizing our president!) May they remain so blindingly puritanical until they are taken, all unaware, by the life, wonder, and beauty they will finally, unwittingly foster by fertilizing flowers. A great purpose awaits us all!

    Are there megalithic sites in Rhode Island? I’m surprised to have never heard any mention of something that interesting — oh, that’s right, they’re trying to keep everything as dull as possible. While growing up, my father used to take us camping for months every summer, eventually visiting most of the state and national parks in the 48 contiguous states. Being a scientist, he was particularly fond of unusual landscapes like the Painted Desert, Arches National park, the Chiracahua rock formations, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone’s geothermal sites, Mt. Desert island, the Petrified Forest, etc… Being a kid, I was more drawn to mysterious ruins like the Mississippian mounds, the serpent mound, Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, petroglyph sites, and medicine wheels. Then I grew up, and nothing changed — I still love exploring mysterious ruins. What stones are lurking around Providence?

    In Indonesia there was hardly a square kilometer that didn’t have a megalithic totem or crumbling temple. Sometimes they were randomly floating in the middle of a sea of rice paddies, protected by local farmers making daily offerings to the stones for generation after generation. Sometimes they were being inexorably consumed by the jungle in a beautiful tribute to nature’s power over man’s ambitions as the planet slowly reclaimed its stolen treasures. And sometimes they were turned into gaudy tourist traps with the most aggressive trinket vendors imaginable, hovering like giant mosquitoes around every exit. Each had its own idiosyncratic magic (even the giant mosquitoes could be amusing if viewed from a safe distance.)

  48. The word fascinating appears and many of the previous comments, and I would like to echo that sentiment. I’ve been a regular reader but even so this is a whole new world of knowledge to me. I have sp many questions while reading. In the interest of brevity I postpone most of them for now and see what happens in the next few posts.

    For now, I like to ask about this:

    1) How exactly does the concepts of magic, religion, and spirituality relate to each other?
    I presume that a comprehensive answer is likely too long to cover in a single comment, but is there any way you could point me in the right direction if were to do my own research?

    2) I believe a few years ago you mentioned something about Christianity succeeding in post-roman Europe because Christianity provided – forgive me if I’m butchering this – a better “kind” of magic. How could I learn more about this?

    Again, I understand time may not permit a complete explanation but any starting points that come to mind would be greatly appreciated.

  49. The Baader-Meinhof effect strikes again. A few days back I was reflecting on a walk I took up Tower Hill on the edge of the City of London. There’s a pub with a plaque on the wall with a quote from Pepys (in case I screw up the img “I went to see Major General Harrison hung, drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.
    Samuel Pepys, 13th October 1660.”)

    Who was Major Harrison? Apparently the leader of the Fifth Monarchists. Never head of them before.

  50. Jmg, how did Gerrard Winstanley derive an economic theory out of alchemy, and what book did he write his theory in?

  51. Mr. Greer, I’m sorry to ask you a question that is somewhat irrelevant to the topic of this post, but it’s a question that’s been bothering me for a while now, and it is about plants and ESP. I read about Cleve Backster and his experiments with plants in Peter Tompkins’ book ‘The Secret Life of Plants’. Materialists denounce it as pseudoscience, so I definitely think it’s worth investigating, but at the same time, I think it’s necessary to not get carried away by conspiracy theories. I’d like to read your take on this topic, and especially because the science of the deindustrial future will be the kind of experiments which Rupert Sheldrake and other non-materialist scientists have advocated.

  52. @Aidan: Thanks for the book suggestions! I’ll see if my library has those books when all the lockdowns are eventually lifted.

  53. Thanks for the post JMG. This series is turning out to be really fascinating. It’s amazing what can be revealed about the present by illuminating forgotten currents in history; like Will Oberton said above, it’s very easy to recognise a uniquely American brand of weirdness fermenting in the lives and doings of these funny old expropriated occultists.

    As a native of the UK this inspires me to learn more about the hidden history of my own country. Although to be honest, I could probably begin just by educating myself about the conventional history! I’m pretty shamefully ignorant. 7 or so years of expensive private schooling and all I got out of it was a deeply rose-tinted view of ‘our finest hour’, plus a few tid bits of the early Anglo-Norman period. Well, that and a mighty sense of entitlement that, as it turned out, didn’t serve me all that well outside of the reality bubble of the British public schooling system. Maybe it would’ve all worked out better if, like many of my school’s alumni, I’d crossed over into the equally bubbly world of party politics…

  54. Thanks for another wonderful essay, John! This is New England history I knew nothing about.

    I do have one issue though. You said: “The Pilgrims we all heard about in school—the ones who sailed on the Mayflower, set up a repressive Puritan theocracy on Massachusetts Bay, and hanged witches at Salem . . .”

    As I understand it, the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 set up a somewhat less-repressive government in Plymouth Colony than did the later Puritans in Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Colony. While the Boston colonists wanted to reform the Church of England, the Plymouth colonists thought the Church of England was too corrupt to be reformed; they were called Separatists (or Separatist Puritans) for this reason.

    Because of their heterodox ideas, the Separatist Puritans in England were persecuted and so were financially unsuccessful, while the Puritans were allowed to prosper. When the Pilgrims decided to head to the New World, they needed investors. So the people on the Mayflower were about half Separatists and about half adventurers (who were also Puritans).

    The investors soon sent additional boatloads of people to Plymouth, bringing greater numbers of adventurers into Plymouth. This influx of adventurers and the influence of wealthier Massachusetts Bay Colony caused Plymouth to become more and more repressive over several decades.

    Nevertheless, after the Boston theocracy prevented Roger Williams from serving as a minister in Salem, he came to Plymouth in 1632, where his sermons were well received. He soon left, as Plymouth was not radical enough for him, to found Rhode Island.

    Also, while Massachusetts was persecuting and hanging Quakers, Plymouth was only fining them, allowing a congregation to be established in Sandwich in 1658.

    No witches were hanged in Plymouth, though, by then (1692), Plymouth had been incorporated into Massachusetts Bay (1691).

  55. Thank you for this very unconventional view of Reformation and specifically Baptist history! I grew up Baptist, though as an adult I have mostly gone to other denominations. By the way, the General Six-Principle Baptists‘ Name reminds me of the Church of the Four -Square Gospel (Igreja do Evangelho Quadrangular), whose billboards I often saw in Brazil.
    Your geographical division of the social and religious winners in the 17th century is very interesting. Do you recall references for merchants winning across Northern Germany? I am not too familiar with the history of e.g. Hanover, even though I grew up there. My impression of Prussian history was of a continued domination by agrarian interests.

  56. On the Amish and lack of magic: I remember running into that a while back, when looking for hex signs for my new apartment. My grandparents had one up on their barn, but didn’t remember where they got it, and all of the local old-fashioned communities are Amish, who don’t hold with that sort of thing–or tourist-Amish, where you *can* find hex signs, but they’re made in Taiwan.

    @JMG: There really does need to be some mathematical principle about the number of adjectives in a religion/church’s name. Or maybe a rule in a RPG.

    @Lady Cutekitten: Ooh, I am intrigued. My father’s side are Presbyterian, and I don’t associate them with potlucks as such (although everyone in the family brings something to Christmas dinner etc, and cannot be dissuaded from that no matter how strongly the host tries), but they’ve been of the A Nice Brunch At the Country Club After Church* section of terminally respectable middle-class WASPs since at least I’ve been alive. Dad still speaks with mingled awe and horror of my Aunt Margaret’s Jello salad, though.

    I’ve generally thought of Lutherans as the best potluckers in the North/Midwest, and Baptists in the South, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

    * The local church we went to wasn’t that, but stuck generally to coffee and bars. The baked kind, not Sam’s up the road, though some stuck to that too (and probably still do, when it’s not closed for health reasons).

  57. IIRC – correct me if I’m wrong – some of the Medieval proto-Protestant movements such as the Lollards could be both Magisterial and Radical, or perhaps have Magisterial and Radical wings even as some of today’s movements have. This would be 14th & 15th Centuries, so, Late Period. Any medievalists with fresher memories than I have with any comments?

  58. Re: The Atlantic’s article “Witchcraft on the rise.” I noticed the focus on one witch with a background as a traditional healer. I’m wondering if a lot of these practitioners are less New Age than the simple earth-centered magic whose popularity waxes and wanes like the moon. I maybe biased; that’s the trend my own work has started to take since my move. And of course, as one writer noted decades ago, “The New Aquarian Frontier, like any other frontier, includes a lot of snake-oil peddlers and con artists.” But that is an interesting trend and quite in keeping with the Long Descent.

  59. @Lady Cutekitten – oh, no, the Methodists have the best potlucks! I have a Methodist friends who told me so.

    @JMG – thanks for the tip on the book about the Brendan voyage. I remember reading Kon-Tiki long ago and it really opened my eyes to Polynesian navigation and seafaring.

    @Rita Rippetoe: the Hebrew Prophets preached against, “joining field to field….” among other things, and your comment ‘As new crops and plans for rotations were introduced landlords advocated for the right to merge the fields for greater efficiency. ” reminded me of that. Previously, I had pictured something like great landowners buying up all the land and turning it into something like a plantation economy. Then it occurred to me “Same difference.”

    @Bogatyr – thanks for the picture of the Irish curragh. That’s a much bigger boat – I’d been picturing something more like the round dish-like boat shown in the medieval drawing below the main picture – the sort of thing a Welsh fisher would have used for offshore fishing.

  60. Based on your last post in this thread, I found a copy of Lee Grandee’s Strange Experience, and a copy of the Long Lost Friend by Hohman. I am eager for more reading recommendations on this theme. Thanks.

    Grandee is good fun. The Long Lost Friend is a bit more intimidating, and I am working up to it.

  61. @JMG: On the BBC news, I just listened to a Chinese from Wuhan woman discussing the Internet meme to support the people of Wuhan. She mentioned that she is sure that the upwelling of support helped the people of Wuhan overcome the illness. In other words: TSW

    @ Lady Cutekitten of Lolcat: בשנה הבאה בפרובידנס, indeed! A millennium hence, they won’t remember us, but they will be raising a glass with that toast at the Equinoxes.

    Regarding First (Baptist, Congregational & c. ) church of wherever. My church started 300 years ago as First Congregational, and after 23 years split over the question of “Damnable good works”. The church started as a strictly Calvinist, but our first called minister preached salvation by works, rather than salvation by faith, and the strict Calvinists split off to form the Church of the West Side. The Church of the West Side eventually changed its name to Beneficent, and have evolved into a typical liberal UCC, so they have come around to salvation by works. Meanwhile, we became Unitarian in outlook, and after about a century, in name. (It is only a coincidence that the church was struck by lightning shortly after changing the name to First Unitarian in the early 1960s.) We have very good potlucks, with occasional polenta con formaggio. We also are very proud of our Meeting House, featuring the largest bell ever cast by Paul Revere & Sons. All of this is to say, no-one in the Congregational tradition wants to be Second anything: we are all amongst the Elect!

    Right down the street from our Meeting House is the First Baptist Church (in the Americas) gathered by Roger Williams in 1638. The two predominantly African American Baptist churches in the area are both named for the streets they are on. One is an offshoot of First Baptist, and the other an offshoot of that one, so they could be second and third Baptist. They’re obviously not content to be Second anything either. Not having attended a potluck at either, I can’t comment on the food quality.

  62. Thank you for the very interesting post!
    I am currently reading ‘A People’s History of the US’ by Howard Zinn, which is a great (but admittedly secular) account of that third group of American colonists. Reading Zinn’s book alongside your magical history articles definitely inform each other. It’s amazing how much more there is to the American story when you watch it in wide-screen.
    I would also love to represent my home state, Colorado, as a place with a rich occult history and many spiritual and monolithic locations. Within a couple of hours from my home, you can find the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs (Pagosa Springs); Chimney Rock, a naturally occurring rock formation that both perfectly framed the supernova of the Crab Nebula as well as traditionally houses the masculine and feminine creator deities of the Southern Ute indigenous people; and Mt Blanca, a mountain in the Rockies that is the home of a Thunderbird, one of the great supernatural entities of the American West.
    JMG, your work is what inspired me to seek out these special places and to continually investigate the local histories that have been suppressed by those who traditionally hold the power.

  63. You’re missing the obvious: The Free Baptist Church. As opposed to the enslaved and rejected Baptist Church.

  64. JMG a little off topic but do you think the USS Theodore Roosevelt being evacuated like the Disaster Princess cruise ship could have the same geopolitical impact as the USS Ronald Reagan being beached in Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

  65. JillN, Bogatyr: “Oh the water’s wide, and I can’t cross o’er, and neither have I wings to fly… build me a boat that will carry two, and we will sail, my love and I.”

    Or for that matter, a well-built canoe. Or even a raft. Give humans a coast and something that floats, and they can end up anywhere. Give them a bit of star-wisdom and they can end up just about anywhere they want to.

  66. @Beekeeper – thanks for the Kutztown recommendation. Looks like it’s only a few hours away from me, so I’ll have to schedule a research trip when traveling is an option again.

  67. Lady Cutekitten–I heard somewhere, it may have been Garrison Keillor, of some denominations that scorn the idea of ‘potluck’ as too ‘occult’ and refer to their church gatherings as ‘covered dish’ suppers.

    On internal and external colonialism–another tactic is to require taxes and rents to be paid in cash rather than in produce. Then the peasants are forced to grow a cash crop, which may fail or may bring in less cash due to ups and downs of markets, and they eventually default. In Europe there was no need for the landlords to buy up the land–the nobility already owned most of it. They just had to get permission to overthrow the traditional rights of their tenants.

    I studied a bit of how this happened in Scotland in writing my analysis of the works of Jane Duncan [_Reappraising Jane Duncan: Sexuality, Race and Colonialism in the My Friends Novels_ McFarland 2017]. She was of Highland heritage, and had happy summers on her grandparent’s croft. But it is clear from the 19 semi-autobiographical novels she wrote that Highlanders had to leave home in large numbers to earn a living. Duncan portrays her Grannie as an unsentimental woman determined to turn her back on the past, including the Gaelic language and her folk remedies, and push her family into a more prosperous future of English speaking, the higher education and living and working away from the Highlands when necessary. Duncan’s life took her to Jamaica, where she saw the winding down of the British Empire in the Caribbean colonies as well.

    Not relevant to the topic of enclosures, etc. but an instance of fighting for retention or return of traditional rights was the ramblers movements in England. The advent of the weekend off gave many middle and working class people a desire to head to the countryside for recreation. There they found that some landowners tried to block access to traditional paths. The various walking clubs banded together to fight for legislation ensuring public passage over private lands by traditional pathways.

    I hope this is not a forbidden question–but here in the US there seems to be no clear direction given on whether churches can continue to hold worship services. What is the situation in other parts of the world? I know Venice had closed the churches just before my daughter left–but since most churches there attract tourists to view the architecture or art it isn’t quite the same as shutting down the Fourth Baptist.

    Rita

  68. Mayflower Child is quite right about old Plymouth Colony vs. Massachusetts Bay. The Puritans came into New England only in 1630, when the so-called Winthrop Fleet entered Masssachusetts Bay.

    (Winthrop was a very clever politician. He had the foresight to bring the Colony’s charter along with the Colony itself to New England, so that the Crown could not lay their hands on it to amend or revoke it. He and his backers, IMHO, pretty clearly were already planning to secure total independence from the British Crown right from the start, though they were smart enough not to put that program of theirs in writing anywhere. Their actions speak louder than the words they were canny enough not to write.)

    The Mayflower passengers, possibly apart from some of the laborers added to the ship’s roster by Plymouth Colony’s wealthy backers, were not Puritans at all, but Separatists, and Separatists of a particularly radical stripe. (They fit quite well into JMG’s “third stream,” the Radical Reformationists.) Their minister back in Leiden, John Robinson, even advocated in writing for women to speak up openly in church as readily as men could (in either case, that is, when so moved by the Holy Spirit). This practice of layfolk’s speaking up in church they called “prophesying,” and it was a regular part of Separatists’ Sunday services, both in Europe and in North America.

    The first known alchemist in New England, Jonathan Brewster, came to Plymouth Colony in 1621 on the Fortune. He was a son of William Brewster, the first Teacher (a formal church office) in the Separatist congregation at Plymouth Colony, Jonathan Berewster had learned his alchemy at the University of Leiden, where it was regularly taught. (For what it is worth, alchemy was also regularly taught at Harvard University in the later 1600s by Charles Morton.)

    @Mayflower Child: If I may ask, who are your ancestors on the Mayflower? Mine are Isaac Allerton (through his daughter Mary) and Digory Priest.

  69. Interesting that you mention the first and 2nd Baptist churches, I would guess that you know that you now live only a few miles from the original first Baptist church in North America at the foot of College Hill in Providence.It is still unchanged from colonial times. It has always been the site of the first half of Brown’s commencement ceremony (only students fit). But,because it does not meet any modern fire codes, during commencement a full box of the Providence Fire Department is stationed around it to rescue the graduates should a fire break out.

  70. BB. not very far — it was too radical even for most of the radicals of that time. It’s still fascinating to see just how many of the basic themes of the next three hundred years of political radicalism were foreshadowed by the Diggers et al..

    Brian, my great-aunt Alice did a lot of genealogical work on my paternal line, tracing us back to the southwestern Scottish Highlands (Greer is one of the many aliases taken by members of Clan MacGregor when the clan was outlawed in 1603). My end of the family went to Northern Ireland, where an uncle of one of my ancestors was a founding member of the Orange Order, then emigrated to the US, where they bounced from place to place a lot and finally ended up in western Washington, where my great-great-grandfather settled on Grays Harbor on the Pacific coast. The rest of it I don’t know anything like so well, and my maternal line is anybody’s guess — all I have are a few family stories from a family that likes to play games with fact. I may get off my duff and get my DNA tested one of these days.

    Lenn, you’re most welcome.

    Heather, Mitch’s book is good; it covers the areas he finds most interesting, which aren’t those that I find most interesting, so when this project turns into a book there won’t be that much overlap!

    Christophe, indeed there are. Rhode Island has quite a collection of mysterious stone cairns, chambers, circles, and dolmens. I’d made plans with a friend to start visiting those — we did an expedition to the Newport Tower to start things rolling — and while further adventures are on hold until the virus gets out of the way, I’m looking forward to the experience.

    Char, questions about the boundaries between magic, religion, and spirituality are highly disputed and have been used as rhetorical weapons for some years. I use the term “religion” to mean ways of establishing and maintaining relationships between humans and deities; I use the term “magic” to mean the practical application of spiritual forces to meet human needs; and I use the term “spiritual” as the opposite of material — thus it’s a term for all those aspects of human experience that do not seem to have anything to do with physical matter. With regard to magic in the Christianization of Europe, the book you want is The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe by Valerie Flint.

    Andy, synchronicity strikes again!

    J.L.Mc12, it’s been a couple of decades since I last read Winstanley, so you’ll have to do some research yourself.

    Rajat, that’s a subject I’ve actually done some research in, though it’s been a while. My take is that there’s definitely something to it, and the best thing to my mind would be for other people to try the same experiments and share their results. One of the things I admire about Sheldrake is his enthusiasm for teaching people to check things out for themselves — that’s a spirit we need to see more of.

    Tres Bla, England has a fantastic amount of weird history, and much of it’s very well documented. Choose a period that interests you — pick a century, any century! — and start digging; you’ll be amazed by how much you find.

  71. This essay gives a very, very interesting background from which to peer through the “holes in the carpet” and catch glimpses of the “third” way as I read through EP Thompsons “The Making of the English Working Class”.

    You say: “In much of northern Europe—Britain, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, and the northern half or so of Germany—the mercantile party won, the aristocrats accepted the inevitable and made peace with the victors, and the third party was crushed.”

    I have just read the section where he outlines the “inevitable” outlook that the aristocratic party “accepted” in the British context – which was that, post-French war, the English “ancien regime” got very fond of the idea of keeping their necks, and therefore found it expedient to join the mercantile classes in the project of crushing the independent skilled craftworkers guilds and dispossessing their members of their livelihoods and social standing, by steadily, and against all resistance, throughout the period of around 1800 to 1840 or so, replacing them with the combination of machines + unskilled labour (particularly that of women and children) that defined the new capitalist enterprise.

    Thompson is, naturally, coy about the roles of culture and religion in these events, although he has an extensive section on Methodism, which I’m in the middle of reading just now. However, mention of (for example) “Southcottians” (Joanna Southcott followers and imitators) and (for example) of suppression of various village folk customs and rituals, do slip through into his historical narrative from time to time. I shall be more attentive, as the essay you’ve written here provides a somewhat different framework to view this through.

  72. @ Cousin Robert Mathiesen: I’m related to Isaac Allerton, the Brewsters, the Whites, Richard Warren, and a few others I’m not recalling right now. I live in Wareham, one town southwest of Plymouth, and have Mayflower roots in both my mother’s and father’s families.

    That’s interesting about Jonathan Brewster, who I think would be my ninth great-granduncle.

    @JMG: Do you happen to known any sources of more information about “havens for the sects of the Radical Reformation” in southeastern Massachusetts, between Cape Cod and Rhode Island?

  73. The Amish in my experience keep any magical beliefs pretty close to the vest, but I’ve known quite a few who are into herblore and some of the more alternative medicine side of things, as well as planting by the signs. Some of the more tech-friendly, progressive Mennonites can definitely get out into the occult side of things – I once worked with a woman whose family had a long history of clairvoyance and was pretty up front about it. At the time I was much more of a materialist and unfortunately didn’t ask too many questions on the whole matter, but we had a running joke, playing off how all Mennonites are related to one another, about the ongoing effor to produce “the Mennonite Kwisatz Haderach.”

    But, yes, the “fancy Dutch” were much more open to occult experimentation, and their culture has largely died out in the US, to the extent that most people think “Dutch” equals Amish or Mennonite. There were plenty of farm towns in Pennsylvania where German was the common tongue up until the first World War, when they all switched over to English in the face of anti-German propaganda campaigns. Once the language was gone they stopped living apart and the culture has largely died out. The plain folk were already on the wrong side of the propaganda machine as pacifists and draft-resisters and so keeping the language didn’t bother them either.

  74. Mayflower Child, duly noted, and thanks for the correction.

    Matthias, I took that generalization from a variety of general histories, and of course there will be specific regional variations. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Prussia generally an outlier in terms of the broader trends of German history?

    Isabel, the one rule I’ve noted is that the more words in the name, the weirder the church. That was one of the reasons I gave the Old Independent Liberal Baptist Convention of New Jersey so rambling a moniker.

    Patricia M, as far as I know that’s quite correct. It wasn’t until the Reformation was well under way that the reforming groups began to diverge into the two broad movements I’ve noted, and even then there was some overlap and some groups more or less in the middle.

    William, I’m still gathering sources. There’s a good anthology titled Wonders of the Invisible World: 1600-1900 which, on Robert Mathiesen’s recommendation, I picked up from the local library system and now have for the duration; it has the essay from which I got Joseph Stratton’s details, as well as a number of other first-rate pieces.

    Peter, it does indeed.

    Dylandrogynous, every state in the union is full of weirdness. You might see if you can find records of weird communes and strange churches in your state — there was a wave of those straight across the West, as people who wanted to create their own utopias headed for where land was cheap and neighbors were scarce.

    Jasper, you might want to put something in your comments that will tell readers whom you’re addressing. I didn’t miss the Free Baptist Church, for example — I put one in Arkham in one of my novels, as mentioned earlier.

    President Weed, nope. Ordinary common or garden variety ineptitude is one thing; the total defeat of a previously powerful military technology is quite another.

    Robert, many thanks for this. Can you recommend good sources on the Separatists, their differences from the Puritans, and their attitude toward alchemy and astrology?

    Clay, I do indeed know that, and I’ve been inside — though not to attend services. It’s a remarkably odd building, with a very un-churchlike ambience inside.

    Scotlyn, good heavens — Thompson mentions the Southcottian movement? I’d have expected a good robust Marxist like him to stay well away from that. Southcott herself was a memorably weird figure — she started out as a village witch, turned into a prophetess, and founded an eccentric religious movement that still exists today.

    Mayflower Child, I got what information I have out of a couple of essays in the anthology Wonders of the Invisible World: 1600-1900. (According to the internet, there are copies of this in the Mansfield and New Bedford libraries, so you should be able to get it fairly readily.)

    Dave, interesting. For what it’s worth, while fancy Dutch language and culture may have largely died out, the magic is still around; I’ve met a person who started out as a Satanist, got interested in braucherei, dropped his devil worship, and is now a braucher and a minister in a small Lutheran denomination!

  75. Stuart Braid: a very graphic description of how the mercantile class in England, in cahoots with the lairds in Scotland, forced about 200,000 Scots to flee for their lives to the “colonies” during the Highland Clearances (in order to liberate land for the more profitable sheep) is given in Ken McGoogan’s book “Flight of the Highlanders”. It acknowledges Australia, New Zealand and North Carolina as targets for Scottish immigration 1750-1850, but most of them ended up in what is now Canada. It is a Canada-centric book, by the way.

  76. JMG: as you have been uncovering the occult and magic “roots” in the settling of the USA, I’d be interesting to know if you have uncovered any evidence of geomancy being practiced in the early days of the “13 colonies” (though if it was practiced, it obviously didn’t take root).

  77. The General Six-Principle Baptist faith sounds very like the Baptist faith I was raised with. Indeed, one of the biggest things my father impressed upon me regarding religion was that very principle of the believer’s baptism; it should be chosen through one’s own freewill, which always struck me as the most obvious notion… Would I be correct in supposing that infant baptism, on the other hand, is magically unwise as it violates the child’s consent?

    Also, I looked up one of Conrad Beissel’s hymns; not bad!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWV3ud6NbTQ

    (Also, the conflict between the Magisterial Protestant Reformation and the Radical Protestant Reformation reminded me of Emo Phillips’s great joke about two different Baptist sects. It’s a long setup, but totally worth it.)

  78. isabelcooper:
    Eric Claypoole is a second-generation hex sign painter in Pennsylvania. He made me a custom sign for my apiary a number of years ago – there is no traditional bee hex sign he told me – which still graces my bee yard. I’m sure that most of the signs sold at the souvenir stores are foreign made, but if you want a genuine one, Eric is the man to see.
    https://www.visitpaamericana.com/story/hex-signs-berks-reading-pa/

  79. JMG, we independently discovered the Inverse Law Of Protestant Religious Nomenclature. Denominations like the Baptists and Methodists have thousands of members. A strip-mall storefront church with 9 members, 11 if you count the pastor and his dog, will be called something like The Apostolic Bible Believing Glory Temple of Jesus Christ Our Eternal Lord and Savior.

    This never fails, so if any of you Protestants are moving to a new town and searching for a new church, you can use this Law to fine-tune the size of your new church.

  80. For several people who mentioned the English enclosures, I was remembering the snapshot of the history behind real estate law that comes with becoming a real estate broker. Practically everything related to real estate title or rental has to be in writing, because of the heritage of the Statute of Frauds. That old law denied the validity of customary rights to use land unless they were written down in a title deed, preferably recorded by what we would call a county clerk, even if they were supported by an affidavit from everybody in the village. That made it much easier to get rid of all those revolting peasants!

    And that reminds me of an incident in one of Patrick O’Brian’s sea stories, where his hero, Royal Navy Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey, is trying to settle down as a country gentleman in his native place. He gets involved in a lawsuit involving a Whig squire nearby. Lucky Jack is a Tory Democrat. When challenged on the point of a landlord’s feudal obligations, he names his own, all of which he is performing, and then rattles off the twelve duties the Whig gentleman’s estate carries with it. He has been doing three, ignoring three, and the other six he had never heard of. His tenants might have told him if he had ever asked, but he didn’t, and they were having fun resenting his cluelessness.

    And speaking of the Royal Navy, I’d like to thank JMG for the New York time travel scene late in the Weird of Hali series, where revelers in a tavern are singing a couple of the innumerable verses of “Anacreon in Heaven,” the RN drinking song Francis Scott Key swiped the tune of for the Star-Spangled Banner.

    “So teach us as you did to fondly entwine
    Venus’s myrtle with Bacchus’ vine!”

  81. Since a number of people are interested, here’s the recipe, which my mom got out of a magazine sometime in the ‘60’s.

    KITTEN TATERS

    (App 57,000 calories per serving, another reason a little goes a long way)

    INGREDIENTS

    4 cups peeled, sliced potatoes
    1 can cheddar cheese soup
    1 cup milk
    4-6 slices Kraft cheese, the plastic-wrapped kind you put on a cheeseburger, torn up

    That’s the ingredients, the whole kit and kaboodle. Thus the name.

    Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into greased 9 x 13 casserole. Bake 30 minutes. Stir. Bake another 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender, and serve it forth. Feel free to add peas, carrots, or leftover meat tidbits, or all of the above.

    Not recommended for those on a low/salt diet, although it doesn’t taste nearly as salty as you’d expect, probably because of all the potatoes.

  82. You are quite right, of course, that Germany east of the Elbe had a different development, with serfdom becoming stronger in the Modern period. I was just reflecting on the fact that I don’t know a lot about Northwestern Germany in the 17th-18th centuries, and hadn’t heard of an alliance between government and bourgeois there like in the Netherlands or England after 1689.

  83. Ron, I haven’t found documentation of that yet, but I’d be amazed if it wasn’t. As Jim Baker documents in his fine book The Cunning Man’s Handbook, geomancy was very widely practiced by English cunning folk all through the time of the Colonial settlement. One of the things I want to do as this project proceeds is get a good list of occult publications in the colonies, since that’s a good way of getting a sample of what was popular.

    Samuel, yes, from a magical point of view infant baptism is very dubious. I’m glad to hear that something like the spirit of Roger Williams still has a solid place among Baptists!

    Your Kittenship, funny. If I ever decide to found a church of which I will be the only member, I’ll remember to add lots of adjectives.

    John, thank you, but it wasn’t “To Anacreon in Heaven”! The verses came from a drinking song H.P. Lovecraft wrote for his short story “The Tomb.” The whole thing runs like this:

    Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,
    And drink to the present before it shall fail;
    Pile each on your platter a mountain of beef,
    For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:
    So fill up your glass,
    For life will soon pass;
    When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!

    Anacreon had a red nose, so they say;
    But what’s a red nose if ye’re happy and gay?
    Gad split me! I’d rather be red whilst I’m here,
    Than white as a lily—and dead half a year!
    So Betty, my miss,
    Come give me a kiss;
    In hell there’s no innkeeper’s daughter like this!

    Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,
    Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table;
    But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around—
    Better under the table than under the ground!
    So revel and chaff
    As ye thirstily quaff:
    Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!

    The fiend strike me blue! I’m scarce able to walk,
    And damn me if I can stand upright or talk!
    Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;
    I’ll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!
    So lend me a hand;
    I’m not able to stand,
    But I’m gay whilst I linger on top of the land!

    Lovecraft immersed himself in 17th- and 18th-century literature and culture, and those of his stories that reference the colonial era (for example, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”) are spot on. You can find “The Tomb” \here if you want a nice creepy story of obsession and madness.

    I put a lot of Lovecraft and his fellow weird tales authors into odd corners of The Weird of Hali. Think of it as my attempt at homage… 😉

    Matthias, the one piece of evidence that comes to mind just at this moment is Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks, which is set in an unnamed German city on the Baltic (pretty clearly Lübeck under a thin layer of paint). Mann’s portrait of the bourgeois upper class of Lübeck could as well be set in London or Amsterdam.

  84. I had no idea hex signs were so hard to get! Dad made them all the time and sold for between $25-50 depending on size. As soon as I’m feeling any better ,I’ll see if we have any left in his stuff we packed away. I’m pretty sure I remember packing several hex-sign Kleenex-box holders, and a whole bunch of half-conpleted salt-shaker holders. By “half-completed”, I mean the pencil guidelines are still on them. I don’t know what the heck to do with those. The finished ones are adorable, with a rooster, and a rail fence behind which your salt shakers reside. Why he half-completed a bunch, I have no idea, unless he was experimenting with his own little private assembly line.

    I don’t have Coronavirus, I have a chronic sinus infection that’s been flaring up off and on, mostly on, since February, and I do not wish to see the dr for fear of catching Coronavirus! 🙄. Ah, the modern world…

  85. Speaking of long names for Protestant churches, in The Poisonwood Bible, the idiot Baptist father starts a church in the Congo called “The New Church of Eternal Life, Jesus is Bängala.” I find this to be extremely choice.

    Also, in the last Magic Monday, a commenter named Oligopsony made mention of the Secret History of Western Esotericism podcast. From what I’ve heard so far, it’s right up my alley, so my thanks to Oligopsony.

  86. This is so much fun! A few years back I read The House of Seven Gables for the first time and was really amazed at two things: how much a part of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s society the occult seemed to play, with people fascinated by things like hypnotism, and just how spectacularly corrupt politics was back then, same as now.
    The significance of these things would have gone over my head in school, so if they were present in other writings we were presented, I wouldn’t know, but I reckon (and I think you said–I read your article yesterday, I’ll have to go back) these interesting points get left out of standard education for various reasons, and one of them is probably similar to the reason I was unaware until about 50 of the actual nature of the relationship between my parents and their best friends, “Uncle Sylvester” and his wife, with whom they had an abrupt and permanent split when I was about nine. I still have dreams about my father’s workplace, in which the terms being used are hopelessly over my head.
    I’m really grateful for your insights on history. They have opened up a much, much broader world for me and help me deal with the challenges of the modern day.

  87. A while back I read the first part of Caliban and the Witch and I’ve been meaning to get back to it. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?

    Are there records of weird religions or magic on pirate ships and in pirate settlements?

  88. Hi John Michael,

    Out of curiosity, do you feel that at some point in the future, the hushing up of such history will have run its course?

    From my perspective, the Huguenots appear to have a very sensible perspective which wouldn’t be too popular with the organised religions. I’m guessing that lot have bills to pay too. 🙂

    The cultures of different countries can be a funny thing. European settlement began as an English penal colony, so most European origin folks down here were n’er do wells. Then the gold rush era brought another dose of fortune seekers. However, I believe the old timer spirits have hung around for the journey, and it’s a rough place if mistreated.

    The rain has returned this year with a vengeance.

    Cheers

    Chris

  89. Jbucks – as far as magical traditions in Atlantic Canada go, Halifax’s own Alexander Kieth was head of the local Masonic order for some time, and associated with adjacent groups that value their secrecy even more. Supposedly those traditions contributed to the impacts he had on the architecture of Halifax, some of which survive into the present day.

  90. Yes, the Free and Hanse Cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck did indeed carry on the mercantile and republican tradition of the Hanse. Even after 1871 the Hohenzollern monarchs were officially addressed as „Most Esteemed Federal President“, not as emperor, while in Hamburg.

  91. @JMG

    The best book I have read on the Separatists was just published this January: Stephen Tomkins, “The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom.” I think it’s a fine piece of scholarshipt. It offers a badly needed corrective to previous scholars (like Perry Miller) who focused their attention on the Puritans in New England’s history. Before it appeared, all I could have recommended were scholarly journal articles and some 16th- and 17th-century primary sources. Tomkins goes over them all, and adds many that I didn’t know of.

    The Mayflower itself plays only a small role in Tomkins’ narrative. It probably figures in the book’s title to capitalize on its 400th anniversary this year.

  92. @cousin Mayflower Child:

    Did you happen to see that a few very persistent researchers finally found some records that clear up the mystery of Isaac Allerton’s ancestry in England? It turns out that his parents were part of a Separatist (“Brownist”) community in and around East Bergholt in Suffolk County.

    As for other Radical reformationists in SE New England, do you know about Samuel Gorton, founder of Warwick, RI, who made even Roger Williams look like a religious conservative by comparison? (RI wasn’t originally a single colony, but an amalgamation of a number of smaller settlements with their own charters. Providence was one, Warwick was another, and the island that includes Newport was a third.)

    Also @JMG (again):

    I see that Caleb Johnson has now published a full edition of Jonathan Brewster’s notebook (“The Brewster Book”), which includes some of his alchemical laboratory notes. Previously all we had to go on was a few letters about his alchemical experiments that he wrote to his fellow alchemist, John Winthrop Jr.

  93. Are you or any other readers aware of modern christian churches that are friendly or indifferent to occultism, as opposed to hostile?

    Will your history touch on occultism in New Jersey? I’m sure how rich that vein is, but I’d be interested to hear.

  94. Archdruid,

    I really like your political and social commentary, but I LOVE when you take us into the wild with these posts. Not only is it an amazing reprieve from the nonstop noise of politics and current events, but it’s a wonderful revelation about all things hidden away in the quiet corners of the world.

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of these posts.

    Regards,

    Varun

  95. Archdruid,

    can you recommend any books about the radical and ministerial reformations? This is the first time I’m hearing about that division.

  96. Stuart and JMG – I have posted this reference here before, and seen someone else do so to, but it is highly relevant to your question, Stuart, and also, possibly to your greater project, JMG. The book is “Why We Left”, the author is Joanna Brooks (whose own background, if I’m not mistaken, is Mormon), and the topic is how to read history between the lines of folk ballads, especially if the history that interests you is the history of not particularly literate country people, who were likelier to sing of rather than write of their experiences, and what underlay their movements, in this case from Britain to America.

    Available from the publisher, here: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/why-we-left

  97. In the late 1600s when Cape Town was little more than a revictualling station for the Dutch East India Company, nearly 200 French Huguenots emigrated and settled here. They became absorbed into the Dutch population but their names live on, so that Francois Le Roux for example is today an Afrikaans name. Religiously they are now Dutch Reformed and very Calvinist. I don’t know if they had any truck with occultism, but they were great wine makers and many of their wine estates still exist.

    Table Mountain is reputed to be an important node on the Earth’s system of ley lines. Some years ago a Japanese group planted an aluminium Peace Pole on Table Mountain to celebrate the fact. A Christian group promptly cut it down as blasphemous and the work of the devil.

    Herbalism and magic, both black and white, are still potent forces in the African population. I don’t know much about it but I’ve heard enough stories to make me keep well away from it.

  98. @ JMG – I’m far from certain that EP Thompson IS a “robust Marxist”. That is to say, he does not indulge in theoretical speculation as to “shoulds” in this history.

    His work charts the history of the specific political, economic, social and cultural events and happenings that produced, as their outcome, a detectable sensibility that can be called an “English working class” sensibility. I suppose paying any attention at all to the lives and times of people of that particular class can make you a “robust Marxist” in some people’s reckoning, but if that is the case, you must be one yourself! 😉

    But what stands out for me, as I read the work, are the many vividly rendered voices of those whose history he charts. They emerge much more strongly from the work, than his own quiet, background voice, which, to me, is the sign of a good history.

    Not surprisingly, his delving into Joanna Southcott and other religious matters are somewhat reluctant and tentative, partly, I imagine, from wariness of stirring up potential religious controversies on which he himself has not developed a strong commitment to any particular “side”. But he doesn’t skirt their extreme relevance and importance to the people concerned. He also nicely develops the potential for Methodism (which he delves into in some detail) to present both “Magisterial” and “Radical” faces.

    Anyway, reading Thompson’s work, in tandem with yours, is proving very, very interesting indeed.

  99. Dear JMG,

    Do I understand correctly then that the reality wars of the Late Renaissance were mostly the product of political factions, perhaps one could even say the tensions between two aristocracies — pastoral and industrial — and a growing middle class? I’m reminded of your essays on the three settlement patterns of the United States: the Industrial North exemplified by Mill Towns; the Antebellum South exemplified by the Plantations; and then the more independent Frontier Culture.

    Does the history of the old world infusion of magic into the Americas inhere differently with different human ecologies? The difference between intentional communities in Pennsylvania and the sort of magic that would eventually become Hoodoo in New Orleans — as far down river as you can go — strike me as salient, perhaps as salient as the difference between both of these magical human ecologies and wealthy patricians with libraries stocked full of books in what would become the industrial North.

    I guess I struggle to understand the United States cohesively. The various regional cultures really seem very different to me: while riding trains from New Orleans I travelled with a guy who carried a gris-gris bag; in the Bay Area I chatted with a bunch of ceremonial mages; in New England folks seem profoundly influenced by New Thought techniques. Somehow, this all strikes me as legacies of regional cultures, that fit within specific human ecologies.

    This gets me wondering along the line that perhaps magic technique might exist as some sort of mental plane function of human ecology or vice versa? Astrology might be one of the most universal of these.

    Certainly Western magical technique with its intense focus on solitary practice and ongoing participation with the hurly-burly of the world, is very different than many Asian, African or First Nations practices. I would imagine that the decisive factor would be the human ecologies in which these practices can exist in, and I’m very curious to read your thoughts on this matter!

  100. Today I learned a new overview of history that I hadn’t come across before. Thank you so much!

    I know it’s not really directly relevant, but you are discussing historical dates that I managed to compartmentalize and disconnected in my head. I was just reading this and twigged to the fact that the Helmschmied and Missaglia families were still creating their magnificent armours for jousts and steel-covered gendarmes were still charging across battlefields when these magicians first immigrated to the new world colonies. I guess that’s another effect of the compression and compartmentalization of history by the Civil Religion of Progress that I hadn’t noticed before.

    Finally, is that one reason why you moved to Rhode Island? Because of its magical heritage?

  101. Your Kittenship, sorry to hear that you’re under the weather.

    Cliff, that’s pretty classic. Here in East Providence we’ve got the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church among many others.

    Patricia O, one of the classic ways to shape the future is to control what people know about the past. Very often both sides of an established political divide settle on some narrow version of history which can be spun to support either side, because that keeps people from looking for a third option. That’s the situation we face in America today — both sides of the political mainstream defend a historical vision that excludes everything but their own supposed antecedents. One of the things that’s most needed right now is a broader vision that embraces the sheer ebullient weirdness of the American experiment — or, rather, experiments, for there was never just one.

    Yorkshire, I haven’t read the book, and my readings in the history of piracy didn’t touch on the occult. I’ll have to look into that.

    Chris, I think the most we can hope for is that the criteria for exclusion may change enough to make room for less boring histories. As for Australia, I’ve been told that you can understand a lot of the difference between Australia and America if you simply remember that the first was settled by convicted criminals and the second was settled by religious fanatics. 😉

    Matthias, okay, that’s certainly a data point to keep in mind. Do I recall correctly that all three of those cities were primarily Protestant?

    Robert, thank you for both these! When the libraries open again I’ll get them

    Tom, I’ve been told that a lot of Episcopalian churches, especially those with a noticeable high-church tendency, are relatively indifferent to it. There are also a lot of little independent (as in, non-Roman) Catholic churches, and some of them are up to their eyeballs in Christian occultism. Beyond that I don’t know. As for New Jersey, I’m still in the looking-for-data stage of this, and if I find anything I’ll certainly mention it.

    Varun, delighted to hear it. As for the distinction between the magisterial and radical reformations, I took that from the anthology I’ve cited several times above, Wonders of the Invisible World: 1600-1900; once the libraries open again, I’ll be chasing down more sources.

    Scotlyn, thanks for this.

    Martin, fascinating. I don’t have access to the necessary sources — or for that matter a reading knowledge of Afrikaans — but it would be interesting to look into the history of occultism in the South African settlements.

    Scotlyn, well, Thompson was one of the major intellectuals of the British Communist Party in the 1940s and 1950s, one of the founders of the Communist Party Historians Group, and though he left the party in 1956 over the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he continued to call himself “a historian in the Marxist tradition” — his words. So I think he would have agreed with my label! My point, though, wasn’t to discredit him; one of the features of 20th century historiography is the way that Marxist historians so very often produced really valuable works of social history; I’m thinking here among others of Eugene Genovese’s brilliant Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, which I studied closely some years ago. It’s just good to see a Marxist social historian dealing with features such as the Southcottian movement, which most historians avoid like the plague.

    Violet, the struggles weren’t just political, but they had strong political and economic components. As for the magical geography of the United States, and its relation to human ecology, that’s something I’m only just beginning to grapple with; the questions you’re asking are ones to which I don’t yet have answers — but we’ll see.

  102. Dear Violet,

    I’m not sure that it is possible to “understand the United States cohesively.” California alone seems to my wife and me to consist of maybe six or eight regional “sub-states,” each needing its own distinct mode of understanding. The same is true of New England, though the regional “sub-states” of course are cut from a very different cloth, and to very different patterns, than the ones in California.

    And the United States as a whole, less finely divided, still looks to several serious thinkers like a patchwork quilt of various “sub-nations.” Joel Garreau posited nine major sub-nations back in 1981, and also referenced various smaller (in geographic terms only) sub=-nations as well. Here is a link to Garreau’s map:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/22320444@N08/5001383655

    And Colin Woodward in 2017 divided the US up into eleven sub-nations, but his boundaries differ noticeably from Garreau’s. Here is a link to Woodward’s map:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-map-11-separate-nations-colin-woodward-yankeedom-new-netherland-the-midlands-tidewater-greater-a8078261.html

    IMHO, Garreau seems like the better of the two divisions on the whole, but each has something to recommend itself to the thoughtful reader.

  103. John–

    Given the tendency of “official history” to exclude occult (or other non-traditional) elements, where/how would one begin if one were interested in digging into the hidden layers of one’s regional history? If the sources tend to blanket these matters in silence, how does one peek under that blanket, as it were, and get a starting point for investigation?

  104. @JMG – fair enough! At present what I am reading gives no hint of any of that biographical data on the author himself. 🙂 Although perhaps the commonality that I see arises from a general willingness to examine the margins and hidden places and see what lies there. Thompson is certainly at pains to demonstrate that – for example – Marx’s “labour theory of value” had precedents in the language and discussions labourers and artisans were actually having long before Marx’s birth. Thompson’s specific “period” is later than the Diggers and Levellers, although to me, that history is also incredibly relevant. Thanks again.

  105. Thank you, JMG. I trust it was you who sent that shoggoth over with the chicken soup. That’s the first time I ever had chicken soup with little cubes of cheese polenta in it. She oozed away happily after I asked for the recipe. Don’t tell her, but I think that, given current circumstances, I’ll leave out the tongue of bat.

    Sonkitten was reading over my shoulder as I was typing about Kitten Taters, and decided he wanted some. “Ain’t potluck season,” says I, “since we all have to stay home for Easter.” “Close enough for government work,” says he, and I couldn’t argue since he picked up that cliche from me. So we had our little scoops and the freezer is now full of KT leftovers. (They freeze just fine, as there is no real cheese in them, but only Kraft cheese slices, which I think have some actual cheese in them for flavor, but not enough to impede freezing.)

    I wonder if Kraft slices are sold on other continents? I’ve seen them in a few Canadian groceries and I’m told Mexican big boxes carry them.

  106. I have most of the Wareham Public Library’s limited collection of local history books with me (they were due the day after the libraries all closed). But whether it’s due to a lack of source material or the erasure you’re speaking of, there’s not much in there about odd sects. Wareham is in that band of southern New England you spoke of, the slice of it in Massachusetts trendily called SouthCoast today. As Mayflower Child said, it’s one town southeast of Plymouth, and it also (like most of present-day Plymouth County which is quite large) was part of Plymouth’s original territory.

    (*Waves to Mayflower Child from along the Agawam River*)

    In one 1970 book there’s a peculiar bit of phrasing mentioning “the Christian Baptists” building a church in 1830. (Was there some other kind?)

    There’s a natural formation called Minister’s Rock (not the carved one in Rochester), a slanted rock outcropping, in present Marion, just west of Wareham. It was used as a pulpit for outdoor services by early Wareham (Agawam and Sippican) settlers before they built their meeting house, and was a native ceremonial site going back to prehistoric times. The site, now wooded and wedged between housing lots, still feels tangibly energetic. It could easily have attracted the interest of any magical cult in the area (in my imagination they’re performing rites around the base of the stone instead of anyone preaching from on top of it), but so far I haven’t found records of any.

  107. Yes, not only the Hanse cities, but almost the entire north of Germany adopted some Protestant denomination after 1648 following the principle of “cuius regio, eius religio” (there are a few tightly circumscribed Catholic isles like the Eichsfeld near where I spent a part of my childhood that belonged to Southern archbishops).

  108. Your Kittenship, nah, the Masons just rolled their eyes. People were publishing pirate versions of Masonic rituals already in the 18th century. Our obligations require us not to pass on any of the secrets of the order to anybody who isn’t a Mason, but I don’t think anyone in the Craft pretends that those secrets are actually secret any more.

    Renaissance, excellent! Yes, the discovery of the New World by Europeans took place when knighthood was still in flower and armor was still being made and worn. Harold L. Peterson’s fine book Arms and Armor in Colonial America 1526-1783 is worth reading in this context; obviously high-end jousting armor was not being brought across the Atlantic, but the colonists at Jamestown and Plymouth had armor and medieval weapons — here’s a website that shows some pieces found at Jamestown, including a breastplate and a burgonet. As for Rhode Island’s magical heritage, no, it was a delightful surprise to me when I learned about it after settling here.

    David BTL, I’m just beginning to get a handle on that myself. Two sets of resources that seem to be very promising just at the moment are (a) histories of occult movements in America, which routinely mention a wide range of places, and (b) histories of communal groups. Did you know that the golden age of American communes was in the mid-19th century, not the 1960s?

    Scotlyn, fair enough; I have a habit of looking up authors and seeing what their history is.

    Your Kittenship, you’re most welcome. 😉

  109. Oh, and just to underline your point here, if anyone watches the BBC science series “The Planets” — which has stunningly magnificent imagery taken from the various missions over the decades — the narration of Episode 3 begins with a completely gratuitous snipe at astrology.

  110. Dear Mr. Greer, et all – A book worth looking at, is (the deeply lamented) Tony Horwitz’s “A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World.” (2008). He wanted to look at what was going on in the Americas, before the Pilgrims. It’s a kind of travelogue, where he follows the routes of the early explorers, and visits sites associated with them. There is a chapter on the Huguenots in Florida.

    On my list of books to read is Farley Mowat’s “The Farfarers” (1998), His speculation and thoughts on voyages to America, before Columbus.

    I’ve always loved that painting by Ford Madox Brown. Who knows why, but it resonates with me. If you look closely, you can see the young woman is clutching a babies hand, under her shawl. Lew

  111. @Lady CuteKitten, I think Kraft cheese slices are darn near universal. I think I saw them on Flores next to Komodo Island. I don’t think they have them on Komodo and its adjacent smaller islands, as the dragons are attracted by the smell of human food and sit around in the inhabited parts of the islands. They don’t try to eat it. They just like the smell apparently. But you probably don’t want to exacerbate that with something like cheese.
    I’ll try out your recipe, but will have to make the cheese soup for myself. Even if I find it here, it is likely to have gluten.

  112. In the 1960s with the explosion of different religions and new spiritual practices, were there any groups who really did it right? Were any innovations developed at the time that are still good today?

  113. @Greencoat: Thank you! I will have to go for a walk around Halifax after looking into the architecture in question. I didn’t know that about Alexander Keith, I will do a little digging.

  114. Hi John Michael,

    What can I say: Our convict heritage proves that we are indeed a rowdy and rascally bunch down here, but also good to have on your side when you’re going into a fight! Plus the beer is better here. 🙂 Yes, I will hear no disparagement of our ales.

    History as taught is pretty dull. Right now I feel that many people are discovering that living history is far more exciting a prospect.

    Mate, the place stinks of fear. It is hard to shake off, but I’ll tell you an odd and notable thing that happened to me on Thursday. So I went out on an errand to the shops which I thought would take about an hour. On the way I met two people separately that I knew and then I had chance encounters with two other old timers: One used to be a brick layer (and we spoke about old school construction techniques) and the other was a forestry worker (plenty in common there). I got home four hours later after much chatting (at a respectable and safe distance thank you very much), but I’m hardly in any hurry. Turns out other people aren’t in a hurry either. This I believe is a good thing.

    All up, I’m kind of enjoying the newer local vibe that is emerging from the dust. I’m sort of dubbing this time ‘The Great Relocalisation’, but of course it might also bring ‘The Great Depression Mark II’ along for the ride. Oh well, plenty of people survived the first one and things could always be worse.

    You know, years and years ago I had a lot. It was not that hard to walk away from, and I’ve observed that the things that are important to me are not the things that people generally place lots of value on.

    Plus you gave a bit of advice many years ago that stands the test of time and has served me well of late (as a bit of feedback for your good self). Your advice was to: Crash now and avoid the rush.

    Cheers

    Chris

  115. Varun,

    If I may suggest a primary-source resource, one of the surviving traditions of the Radical Reformation is the Amish/Mennonite tradition I grew up in. One central text is the Martyr’s Mirror, a compilation of trial records, letters, and other things; the section called the “Old Book” is almost entirely primary source material. It’s available online at http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/; one of the most interesting reads is the transcript of the interrogation of Jacob the Chandler, here: http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/martyrs113.htm

    This is someone who knew he was going to die, so he wasn’t even bothering to try to be polite–so it’s one of the most-read passages in the book.

  116. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for your response! The Reality Wars of the late Renaissance seem to me like a very big deal. Mostly I’ve thought of them in terms of the totalitarian religious disputes of Europe and the Levant which are so incomprehensibly bloody to me, but reading your essay I could see it also in terms of politics and economics, which seems a vitally important context that I neglected before in my analysis. To be entirely forthright and honest I seriously doubt that I might understand the root of it since the whole arrangement of creed, faith, and holy war that so inhere in the history of the Desert Monotheisms strikes me as utterly and incomprehensibly fantastic and alien.

    Dear Robert,

    Thanks for this! That’s certainly my take on things after my years of traveling. I wonder though, cultural affinities is only one portion of what makes a nation: population centers, navigable rivers, harbors, farmland, roadways, defensible borders, forests, salt mines, iron mines, lead mines, etc also are important to nations. The two may overlap or may not, which is what trade allows for at least partially, of course.

    So with the map of the 9 Nations of North America I wonder sincerely, how many would be viable nations? Looking at the map, it appears to me that New England, Quebec, The Foundry and Dixie all could work as independent nations. Perhaps Ecotopia could too — it certainly reminds me visually of Chile! Although the problems of California are so incredibly vast I pause.

    The Empty Quarter, The Bread-Basket, and Mex-America look to me as if they would not function well as independent nations. Mex-America seems the likeliest spot for guerrilla warfare flamed by irredentism, and the breadbasket seems like the very place where Dixie and the Foundry could most effectively have proxy war as they battle for hegemony.

    The Empty Quarter is perhaps the most textured of these land masses: Deseret, the Confederate migration to Northern Idaho with its hostility towards the Federal government and its ardent White Supremacy, the various Indian Reservations, etc., Somehow the political reality of this portion I imagine would end up rather similar to Sub-Saharan Africa, lots of shifting alliances and armed tribes with shifting borders and a sprinkling of failed states.

    Point being, to bring this back towards relevance, these various regions really have different magical traditions, too. New England with its New Thought; Dixie with its Prayer Warriors, Botanicas, and Hoodoo; I’ve been friends with curanderas; and I’ve known a lot of folks who seem to participate in First Nations currents of magic especially in The Empty Quarter. In my travels I’ve spent hardly any time in any points of the Foundry or the Bread-Basket and so I have not the foggiest notion of what’s going on there.

    Again I wonder, too, if we look at these maps of the subnations of North America do we see any pattern of the sorts of regional magics? Do the subnations that might well function as independent nations have different flavors of magic then the portions that would like run down into failed states if they weren’t incorporated into the Federal government? Is there any sort of pattern that we might discern regarding geography, culture and magic?

  117. Dear Archdruid,

    Much enjoying this series!

    Happen to have any leads for magic in the Netherlands from that era? I’ve seen lots of books about everything in the British isles, but I haven’t been able to find much about Dutch magic whatsoever! Is there pehaps a certain Dutch religious group I’d have better luck searching for?

    Kind regards,
    Brigyn

  118. @Jbucks – while you wander around looking at architecture, look also at the cemeteries! The old headstones have glyphs on them depending on the religion and creed of the person buried there, and getting into the history of the changing glyphs, the dates and the family names will probably also start to give you clues. (I love old cemeteries, and over half of my pictures of Halifax are those headstones, lol).

    And all, if it is Huguenots you seek in Canada, the Huguenots that came to Canada came largely, I believe, as United Empire Loyalists through the ports of New York and Boston, settling in the lands granted to them in southern Ontario (my Huguenot ancestors via Germany and Ireland were given their granted lands around Napanee) for their service to the Crown. Their religion on the rosters and census is usually not described as Huguenot, however, but Free Church (or Free Evangelical), so different keyword searches may be in order. I have all these UEL speeches he gave, books (highly propaganda!) and geneological records from a great uncle, and it’s all just political, so far, so maybe the religious aspects got absorbed into geopolitics pretty fast.

  119. There’s several pages about Beissel and Ephrata in Thomas Mann’s novel, Doctor Faustus. The episode appears as one of Wendell Kretschmar’s lectures. Kretschmar is Adrian Leverkuhn’s, the novel’s Faustus, piano teacher, and is a native of Pennsylvania, an expatriate in Germany. I know that Theodor Adorno was the music advisor to Mann and perhaps the information about Beissel derived from him. In any case, there’s a detailed account of how the hymns of the sect were composed, Here is a paragraph describing the singing:

    “The music of Ephrata, Kretschmar told us, was too unusual, too amazing and arbitrary, to be taken over by the world outside, and hence it had sunk into practical oblivion when the sect of the German Seventh-Day Baptists ceased to flourish. But a faint legend had persisted down the years, sufficient in fact to make known how utterly peculiar and moving it had been. The tones coming from the choir had resembled delicate instrumental music and evoked an impression of heavenly mildness and piety in the hearer. The whole had been sung falsetto, and the singers had scarcely opened their mouths or moved their lips–with wonderful acoustic effect. The sound, that is, had thus been thrown up to the rather low cieling of the hall, and it had seemed as though the notes, unlike any familiar to man, and in any case like any known church music, floated down thence and hovered angelically above the heads of the assemblage [H. T. Lowe Porter’s translation–I can’t provide page number because the copy I have is an electronic scan read off my mobile phone].”

    This episode has a thematic role in the novel because of the emphasis on the angelic nature of this music, in contrast to composer Leverkuhn’s pact with the Devil.

  120. Not apropos of any particular comment, just the general tenor of this week’s discussion:

    One of the very earliest of the British explorers to make sea voyages to the North American coast on behalf of the Crown was Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583). He died at sea when his ship, The Squirrel, went down in a storm at midnight.

    So … it turns out that Gilbert also practiced magic with the assistance of a skryer (John Davis, who was otherwise the same sort of sea-going explorer as Gilbert, and the first European to happen upon the Falkland Islands). A manuscript of some of their magical experiments has survived, and was just published in a handsome and learnèd edition by Phil Legard and Alexander Cummins, “An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke” (Scarlet Imprint, 2020; not quite 400 pages long).

    The volume containing the “Excellent Booke” (British Library, Additional Manuscript 36,674) also contains treatises by Simon Foreman, John Dee (who also employed John Davis as a skryer, in the days before he worked with Edward Kelly), and other magicians of the same era. Legard and Cummins’ edition does not include these other works.

    The whole project of colonizing British North America seems to have been tinctured with magical interests from its very outset — to a far greater extent than conventional history recognizes.

    In Newport, Rhode Island, there stands a very odd old stone tower, which was used as a windmill in the later 1600s. However, some of its windows show interesting astronomical or astrological alignments. Also, it still contains the remains of a fireplace, and open fires are the very last thing one ever wants in a working mill, as flour dust is quite likely to explode violently when overheated.

    So it remains somewhat controversial whether the tower was built simply as a windmill in the later 1600s, or whether it had been built in the earlier 1600s, or even the later 1500s, for some other–magical?–purpose, and only later repurposed as a windmill. Myself, I favor the second possibility.

  121. I hope it’s not too late….

    “upstate New York has a long and well-earned reputation as a place of high weirdness,”

    Oooh! Tell us more! I’m from upstate, and my family goes back generations there and in New England. One branch of my mother’s family were Huguenots who settled in Flushing (Queens) New York in the 18th century. I don’t know of any occult leanings anywhere in my family (besides me, that is), but that’s the kind of info that might not get passed down.

  122. Renaissance, no surprises there. Astrology is the enduring bete noir of rationalists everywhere, since if it works — as of course it does — the cosmos isn’t an empty stage on which Man the Conqueror of Nature can strut around doing as he pleases; it’s a realm of intricate harmonies and correspondences that don’t have to take human whims into account. They can’t stand that.

    Lew, I read Horwitz’ book as part of the research I did for The Weird of Hali; the comments about America’s unmentioned history in that series, especially in Chorazin and Providence, had some of Horwitz’ tales as their backstory. I can highly recommend Mowat’s book, which makes an extremely good case for a Pictish settlement of Newfoundland in the very early dark ages.

    Yorkshire, I’m not that well informed about the 1960s spiritual scene, so I can’t really answer that. The currents that interest me are all rather older.

    Chris, you’ll hear no argument from me about beer. Until the microbrew revolution finally hit, American beer was just about the worst in the world — insanely bland is an understatement. I’m glad to hear that people on your end of the planet are taking the opportunity to slow down and rethink things; I’ve seen some of that here as well.

    Violet, the political and economic factors are huge, and there was also a great deal more flexibility in those desert monotheisms than the mainstream historical imagination likes to admit. Much of what happened in the wake of the Reformation, in fact, was a frantic attempt on the part of religious and political authorities to crack down on the enormous amount of religious innovation that went on during those years. That’s part of the backstory to this series of posts, though, since a lot of people who fled the crackdown came here.

    Brigyn, good gods. The Netherlands have a huge magical history. They were a major center of alchemy from the late medieval period through the early modern era; after the Jews were driven out of Spain in 1492, a lot of them went to the Netherlands, making Amsterdam in particular one of Europe’s main centers of Kabbalistic study; the Ritman Library in Amsterdam has one of the world’s premier collections of occult documents, and the list goes on. Here’s a link to an introduction to Amsterdam’s magical history. Have fun!

    JorisKarl, okay, I was looking for an excuse to reread Mann, and you’ve just given me one. I’d forgotten that passage.

    Robert, how utterly fascinating. Do you happen to know if the British Library has digitized that manuscript yet? As for the Newport Tower, I’m inclined to agree that it’s pre-colonial. The style in which it’s built looks Romanesque to my eye — that is, the standard civil architectural style of western medieval Europe — and its eightfold symmetry is rather distinctly reminiscent of Knights Templar architecture.

    Karen, not too late at all. We’ll be getting to upstate New York in some detail as we proceed.

  123. JMG, I just checked the online index to digitized British Library manuscripts, and this one isn’t there yet, so far as I can see. The site is http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/

    The new edition includes a color facsimile, but only of the “Excellent Booke” part, not the entire violume.

    The Newport Tower certainly an archaic oddity in terms of usual Colonial architecture. (There is one similar tower in England, apparently built as a windmill in the 1600s, but it’s an architectural oddity too.) Have you found the Newport Tower mentioned anywhere in the vast literature about the Templars and their lost treasure?

    There’s a museum near the Tower run by a man named Jim Egan, who (like me) thinks there is more to the Tower than a 1600s windmill. I haven’t looked into his theories and evidence much beyond a cursory glance through his website, but he’s clearly put a lot of careful work into his project.

  124. I just took another look at Jim Egan’s website for his Newport Tower Museum: newporttowermuseum.com

    He notes that Gilbert and Dee were collaborators in a project in 1583 to plant an English colony in North America. Interestingly enough, he says that a surviving contemporary deed makes it clear that the colony was meant to be planted somewhere in Narragansett Bay. There are wheels within wheels here … (Egan doesn’t, so far as I see, know much about Dee and Gilbert’s shared interest in skrying and magic.)

  125. I just finished reading _Vitalism: the History of Herbalism, Homeopathy and Flower Essences_ by Matthew Wood, North Atlantic Books, 2005. The author has published several books on Western herbalism in general. In this book he pursues the history of the ideas of vitalism in Western alternative medicines. Here is a paragraph that may tantalize. “Paracelsus taught that the life force is the ruling principle, the identity and intelligence of the primal entity (archei), but also an actual substance occupying the organism (mumia). Samuel Thompson was an uneducated folk doctor who did not philosophize about the nature of the life force, but matter-of-factly treated it like a substance which could be moved, supplemented, obstructed or circulated in the organism. James Tyler Kent, the great proponent of ‘classical homeopathy’ stressed that in order to be effective, the vital force must be substantial–must be a substance– and that we should not think of it solely as a vague, spirit- like entity.”

    Samuel Thompson was a self-taught root doctor who gained much knowledge of native herbs from Native Americans. Dr. Kent was a Swedenborgian, and Wood presents evidence that Kent’s Swedenborgianism strongly affected his interpretation and practice of homeopathy. Cell Salts are mentioned only briefly, but an entire chapter is devoted to Bach’s discovery/invention of flower essences. Bach basically abandoned his medical practice and his previous life to go into nature and live with the plants to learn their healing qualities. I think anyone interested in the history of alternative medicine and especially in the philosophy of vitalism will find this work interesting.

    Those interested in Bach’s work may want to check out the website of the Flower Essence Society, based in Nevada City, CA. There is a conflict in the Bach remedy community between those who feel that Bach’s work was complete and should not be expanded on and those who believe that different area may yield new remedies. The FES was started by people who were working with California native plants.

    Rita

  126. Having just looked into Newport Tower a bit, apparently there was some carbon dating done on drilled, rather than surface, mortar samples that indicated they were from around 1680. Is that something you’d heard of, and, if so, what makes you think it’s not an accurate dating of the structure?
    (Of course, even if it actually was built in the late 17th century, as this series of posts discusses, no reason it couldn’t _also_ have been built with purposes more magical than just a windmill in mind. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that piece of apparent evidence, though.)

  127. I went on a walk in the woods today, which led to a series of thoughts that I think are relevant to this week’s post.

    First, the woods. The woodland where I was walking was a eucalyptus forest, which seems unremarkable, except that it is located in Southern California. Eucalyptus is the dominant tree by far, but native cypresses can be found here and there. Willow and toyon berry are both common in the understory, and, below them, mustard and fennel, a bit of poison oak, and miner’s lettuce growing as an occasional ground cover. Of course, eucalyptus is not “from here;” it is from Australia. Fennel and mustard are Eurasian. Of the plants I mentioned, the willows and toyons, poison oak and miner’s lettuce are “native.”

    Of course, all of that is meaningless, because every plant in the forest is, in fact, “from here.” All of the plants grew in the soil where they currently live– plants are like that– and more plants of the same variety will replace them when they die.

    Thinking about this, I was also thinking about the issue of “Celtic” people and culture in the United States. This is something that comes up in Celtic pagan circles– who is a Celt, what counts as Celtic, etc. It seems to me that there are at least two native Celtic cultures in the United States. These are the cultures of the Irish– who are also called Irish Catholics or Irish Americans– and the Scots-Irish. In terms of the maps of the United States Robert shared, the Scots-Irish are the native people of Appalachia; the Irish are one of the tribes that compose the region variously labelled “The Midlands” and “The Foundry.”

    Now, neither of these groups is the same as any cultural group that currently exists in Europe. The Scots-Irish are the descendants of Scottish highlanders who were driven first to Northern Ireland and then to America, where they settled primarily in the Appalachian Mountains. Along the way, they mixed both genetically and culturally with immigrant Germans and with African Americans and American Indians.

    The Irish are (or were) ethnic Catholics who live in the Northeast and Great Lakes. They began arriving en masse in the 19th century, during the Potato Famine. I don’t know if anyone has done the research to demonstrate this, but I suspect that they mixed even more freely than their Protestant cousins with the Germans who immigrated during the same period. The result is that there are a great many “Irish” families in America which are at least half German by genetic composition, a fact which was suppressed or forgotten during the world wars. Later on, during the 20th century, the “Irish” began to mix with Catholic Italians and Poles as well.

    The result is that you have two relatively definable ethnic groups which can be described as Celtic, which are thoroughly American, and which are hybridized with groups that (as far as I know) rarely or never mingle with Celts in Europe.

    That is to say, the situation with Americans of “Celtic” heritage is very much like the eucalyptus forest that I hiked today. The eucalyptus trees themselves are Australian, but the forest is a mixture of Australian, American and European foliage, growing in American soil. The Celtic American can no more stop being Celtic than the eucalyptus trees can lose their distinctive shape and scent. But it’s also no more European than a forest in California. What has taken shape in the land here is a new type of forest, one that could not have existed prior to a few hundred years ago. In the same way, a culture– rather, a number of cultures– have taken shape on this continent that could not have existed prior to a few centuries ago.

    I recall a number of posts ago someone described visiting Ireland, and a local saying to them, “Let me guess– Another Irish American looking for your roots?” I’m imagining the dryad of a Eucalyptus tree visiting Australia, trying to find its roots. But that wouldn’t work, because while it is a Eucalyptus, it’s not that kind of Eucalyptus; it’s the kind that thrives in company with toyon berries and Monterey cypresses. If I’m right, part of what you’re doing here is suggesting to Americans that they see themselves as more like the California eucalyptus tree. It does indeed have a relationship to similar trees in Australia, but its roots are here, and the forest that it is part of is a much more interesting place than it’s ever allowed itself to notice.

  128. Robert, yes, the Newport Tower is Exhibit A (or occasionally Exhibit B) in quite a bit of the speculative literature around the Templars and the New World; it’s very widely discussed, to the extent that the local Masonic Knights Templar do a vigil there on the winter solstice, when one of the astronomical alignments shows up. I’m not wedded to the Templar theory, though it would explain a thing or two; the possibility that the tower is a legacy of one of the other early crossings from Europe is also possible, as of course is the colonial windmill theory (though I find that implausible for the same reasons you do).

    Rita, it’s an excellent book, and one I have on one of my bookshelves! Yes, we’ll be hearing about several of these people as we go — and not in homeopathic doses. 😉

    Reese, radiocarbon dating is notoriously subject to factors that can cause false dating. In most contexts, as a result, a single carbon date is considered very weak evidence for much of anything, especially in the case of a structure that by all accounts was repaired, repurposed, and used for different things in the colonial period, and then partly blown up during the Revolutionary War (as indeed it was). Thus I consider the question still open, until better evidence surfaces.

  129. @Reese:

    Apparently the C14 dating of the mortar (including a few drilled samples) points most strongly to a period of roughly 1635-1690, but such methods do not absolutely rule out dates some decades earlier or later. Tonight I’m thinking about the possible Humphrey Gilbert + John Dee connection, which would point more likely to the 1570s (or very early 1580s) than to the middle or late 1600s. Also, the Danish scholars who did the C14 dating worked from only a few of samples of the mortar, and one has to allow for the possibility of mortar decaying and stonework needing to be remortared–sometimes not all that long after the original stonemasonry.

  130. Hello,
    I don’t know if this will interest you but here is a report form China:
    This weekend is the QingMing Festival is China. QingMing is known in english as the Tombsweeping Holiday. Usually the eldest male of the household should go and make sure the ancestors tombs are clean. So I suggested that we clean the two household alters my chinese husband has. He enthusiatically agreed. Later that night he asked me if I had finished. Apparantly it is now my job. We only married a few months ago so I was not aware of this.
    I am not chinese but Anglican Australian. Luckily Anglicanism has taught me that cleaning holy places is female work so I have just finished. I think they are buddist/toaist/??. Anyway they look cleaner now and I have given them more food so they should be fine. He can do the more ceremonial activites because I have no idea what they are.
    I case you are interested Religious / magical? practices are blossoming here. There are new temples, churches etc being built and used. Especially at local village level, not for tourists. While communist party members do not participate they can get other relatives and friends to stand in for them so that is not a problem. Also the grandchildren are expected to bow to their grandparents before they get money and say thankyou. Not like my Australia where they complain and whine.

    Best wishes

  131. I agree, JMG, that the question of the tower’s age and purpose is still an open one.

  132. @ Steve T. Excellent discussion of your walk in the eucalyptus woods. I have one point to correct. The Scots-Irish that originally settled the appliachian mountains were lowland Scots not Gaelic speaking highlanders. The highland clearances came after the great Scots-Irish migration to backwoods America. I made the same mistake when I was young. I have some scot-Irish from my grandma so I thought that meant my ancestors wore kilts but it turns out not to be the case

  133. There is also American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard. It’s almost 30 years newer than Nine Nations, and brings in a lot more details.

  134. Steve, highly relevant — but you left out a Celtic nationality. The Welsh-American community is quite large and took its merry sweet time blending in; my wife’s grandfather supported his family during the Depression by going from one small upstate New York town to another to preach in Welsh at Welsh Baptist churches, and the St. David Society and the Cymanfaoedd Canu — Welsh singing festivals — are still going concerns in parts of the country that have a large Welsh population. Of course that doesn’t detract at all from your main point, but I thought it deserved a mention.

    Sue, fascinating. I’m glad to hear it; traditional Chinese religion is a good solid set of relationships with the spiritual world, and I suspect things will go better for China as people get back to it.

  135. Re: Geographical relation to occultism

    The sacredness of space has always really intrigued me, possibly because I spent most of my life moving from one place to another. Like Violet has mentioned, different places do have different feelings, and undoubtedly the atmosphere in one location draws some people there, and/or encourages certain behaviors. There was a book some years ago, the Geography of Genius, which pointed at how certain locations in time seemed to produce more so called “genius.” It was always a product of much more than just the location, but like Violet alluded to with New Orleans being the terminus of the great rivers in America and also producing perhaps the most well known of magical scenes in the USA, as if the magic in other areas followed the riparian zones and flowed towards one spot.

    That is not to overlook the importance and significance of other spots. When we look at areas historically, there have been many places of great interest, especially with the Native Americans such as the Caddo Mounds in the St Louis area, the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin which remained unsculpted through many ice ages, the Black Hills in South Dakota which have been likened to a heart and even attracted the attention of enough political powers to host Mt Rushmore. There are areas such as the Ozarks which seem to cradle Christianity along with other potent occult arts, just as Appalachia. The Adirondacks seem to be a heart producing the Hudson River Valley which is another cradle of a great many forgotten histories.

    On the topic of Deseret, I’ve heard some of Zane Gray’s fiction and was hugely impressed by the realization of the land influencing the character of the people there. Without a doubt the Mormons came with the right spiritual mindset to inhabit the area and have left an enduring mark. It’s difficult to know precisely what factors in that area encourage the flow of spirituality and occult, but there is both a heart and a flow. Or perhaps we could view it more like a plant and suggest that some areas are fertile to grow a body and fruit, and where are we to know where the seeds are distributed? Are the seeds like dandelions or like cherries? Or like the grass burrs? It’s all fascinating to consider. And if we are able to better understand how that works, we might better understand how to leave fruit for our progeny.

  136. There is another Celtic community, lesser known, in the US.–shows up in graveyards in mining areas of Nevada–Virginia City for one. The Cousin Jacks–Cornish hard rock miners. Not sure what religious affiliation they brought with them.
    And for a little more mystery–Nevada and Utah have a fair number of Basques. There is a Basque studies program–offered as an undergraduate minor or PhD program at the U. Nevada, Reno.. So, anyone with a hankering to learn a language with no known relatives–you know where to go. The Basques came in as shepherds. There are several Basque restaurants in N. Calif. Back in the 1970s I took an experimental college class at UC Davis on the Basque use of Tarot. Don’t recall much, just that it was a little different than the books available at the time.

  137. @ JMG– Thank you! I had no idea there was a functioning Welsh community still in this country. Funny enough, the town I was raised in in rural PA was still partly controlled by the descendants of the original Welsh settlers (though by the time I was a kid, the Italians had taken control of a lot of the local economy, and the Catholic Church was a de facto second government). Anyway, they did then and do now still see themselves as Welshmen first and foremost. But Western Pennsylvania is such a weird corner of the country that I guess I assumed it was an exception.

    @ Will Oberton– Thank you also! I don’t know very much about Scottish history, whether the Scots in question were to be found in Scotland, Northern Ireland or America. I was basing my comments on the American Nations book by Colin Woodard that a couple of people have referenced, but it’s been many years since I read it.

  138. May I recommend American Cornball, 99 cents on Kindle in April. It’s a survey of 20th/century American humor, and mostly interesting, although it was published in 2015 so there’s some Ms. Grundying. Think of reading it as walking through a field of fun while keeping an eye out for the occasional cow patty of Wokeness.

  139. Dear Mr. Greer, et all – Maybe before your time, but back in the 1960s, to graduate from high school, you had to take half a year of Washington State history. We had to do a term paper. From a one line mention, in our textbook, I chose as my topic, utopias and experimental communities on Puget Sound. And, there were a lot. Don’t remember much about my paper, but, as I’ve always been interested, I ran across an entire book on the “colonies.” You are probably aware of it, but, some of your readers may also find it interesting.

    “Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915” (LeWarne, 1995.)

    I also wondered if you had run across the Indian Shaker Church. I saw a road sign, outside of Olympia and got curious. Wikipedia has a pretty good entry. “Unrelated to the Shakers of New England … not to be confused with the Native American Church.” There are hints that some of their rituals were a bit on the “magic” side. Lew

  140. @JMG and Rober Mathiesen:
    Thanks! That makes sense.

    Oh, and on a _kind_-of-distantly-related-but-hopefully-not-too-off-topic note (feel free to strip this text off and just put the above through, if the software allows that, if needed), I also also just found this update on the North American Aboriginal Horse hypothesis:
    https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/yes-world-there-were-horses-in-native-culture-before-the-settlers-came-JGqPrqLmZk-3ka-IBqNWiQ
    Still controversial (where people have heard of it at all), and I do see a few issues in the article, some pointed out in the comments. Still, I continue to like the idea, and it does still strike me as at least plausible, from what I’ve read.

  141. Steve T – good post but I take issue with the phrase “potato famine”. The potato blight didn’t cause the famine. That is factually untrue no matter what you were taught in school.

    The potato only came to Europe via the Spanish in the latter part of the 17th century and yet Irish people still managed to feed themselves prior to that. The cause of the famine was not this non native tuber but the British Empire which was systematically funnelling food out of Ireland throughout this man-made “famine”.

  142. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for your clarification! It’s helpful and humbling to remember how limited, distorted, and unconsciously but frankly partisan my sense of so much directly relevant history is. The points you raised in the last post on the magical history of the United States and in this one concerning the portions of the Protestant Reformation that are outside the current mainstream are very salient, and also so outside my grounding in history, that I’ve found them somewhat difficult to assimilate. And so I offer a sincere thanks for the useful, different, and expansive historical perspective you present here!

  143. I wonder if I qualify as a Baptist? My father and grandfather were Christian Scientists and I went to Christian Scientist Sunday school, but don’t ask me what they taught, I never understood a word of it. Anyway, my sister and I were not baptised as babies because it’s not part of Christian Scientist tradition.

    When I was older I heard from other children at school that children who weren’t baptised did not go to heaven. My sister said she’d heard the same thing, and we decided we needed to get baptised. My father said it’s not possible because there was no way for a Christian Scientist to get baptised. We insisted there had to be a way. (My mother claimed to be agnostic and stayed out of it.)

    As it happened, the Anglican priest (Episcopalian in the US) associated with my school was very popular with the school kids, and when approached he was happy to perform the ceremony. Thus it happened that my sister and I, 10 and 12 respectively, got baptised in a nice little stone church with priest, godparents, mother, and the two of us trying hard not to giggle — except my father standing in the background looking grumpy.

    Later I got confirmed but found no answers from the church to questions that troubled me as a teen and I abandoned formal religion. I acknowledge that there is a Higher Power and I give thanks and owe gratitude to the HP, but I don’t worry about the HP’s exact nature. I am happy enough to believe that it exists and i am somehow part of it.

  144. Prizm, I was struck — clobbered over the head would be a better description — by Vine Deloria Jr.’s comments in God is Red about the importance of place as well as time in spirituality; it’s something badly neglected in most Western religious traditions, though that wasn’t always the case. One of the useful bits of Druid teaching in this context is the contrast between the solar and telluric currents, the two main currents of spiritual energy we can access; the solar current varies over time — thus some times and days and seasons are better for this or that work than others — but the telluric current varies similarly over space — thus some locations are better for this or that work than others. One of the great challenges for the occultists of the future will be working out a way of reading the characteristics of place that’s as well developed as the astrological method of reading the characteristics of time.

    Rita, thanks for the reminder! There are also Cornish communities in some mining regions back east, and yes, I should have had that in mind too. As for the Basques, another good point.

    Steve, my wife’s maternal family is Welsh-American, and she grew up going to Cymanfaoedd Canu in Seattle and Spokane, so I had kind of an inside track on that bit of information.

    Lew, that requirement was still in place when I was in school. Thanks for the reminder of Utopias on Puget Sound! Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any copies in the Rhode Island state library system, but as I recall it’s quite a good book.

    Reese, fascinating. It should be possible, using mitichondrial DNA, to figure out if the descendants of Native horses evolved separately from Old World horses; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that they are. The author of the dissertation is quite correct that the prehistory of the New World has suffered from systematic attempts to downplay the length and complexity of the Native American presence here.

    Violet, you’re most welcome. This is an extremely complex landscape of history, and an American public school education is the opposite of helpful in dealing with it.

    Martin, you certainly qualify as a baptized Christian, but beyond that you’d probably have to ask the Baptists — and I suspect you’d get at least as many answers as there are Baptist denominations.

  145. The Newport Tower doesn’t look a lot different from the iron stone kiln still to be seen in Franconia New Hampshire, though of course the Tower predates the iron kiln by several centuries. What I find interesting is the process of mythologization beginning to accrete around this and other structures (like Mystery Hill also in New Hampshire). As time goes by, records get lost, folk memories get garbled, fused with other stories or people forget altogether and invent new stories to explain what they see. What sort of new mythology might arise in future centuries as the Long Descent proceeds?

  146. Prizm, I find your comments about the spiritual significance of space interesting. This is a subject about which I know nothing but I do know that a sense of belonging and being in place is important for me. Wendell Berry writes about this far better than I could possibly explain it.
    Bridge, you are right about the potato famine. The ruling class in England regarded the Irish as not quite people therefore not deserving of any consideration. There are many ways in which the Irish were forced into “backward” ways and subsequently regarded as inferior because of this. This highlights the danger of regarding others as being sub-people. It allows us to treat them very badly indeed.

  147. Bridge–good point about the Irish Famine–the landlords raised wheat on their acreage for export to England. The Irish cottagers had small plots of potatoes and sometimes enough pasturage for a small cow and a few pigs. When the potatoes failed the major source of calories was gone. One of Anthony Trollope’s novels deals with relief efforts. The British government was buying corn from the US (maize) and distributing it to Irish peasants who had no idea how to prepare it. After all, you wouldn’t want the Irish poor to get the idea they were entitled to eat wheat bread on a regular basis.

    I also grew up on tales of California farmers throwing oranges into the ocean during the Depression to keep prices up, while Dust Bowl refugees went hungry. My grandmother’s family spent time in the migrant labor camps up and down the West Coast, picking berries, table peas and apples. She may not have seen the dumping of the oranges, but it was certainly talked about at the time. Economists may see the sense in this, but hungry people certainly don’t. Ironically, while on a Welfare budget I could not afford butter–but I sometimes got it free as the USDA would distribute the food it stockpiled for price supports—you never knew what you would get: blocks of cheese product (think generic Velveeta), butter, corn meal or flour, peanut butter, dried milk).

  148. Bridge, for heavensake. “Potato Famine” is a common term for the event and the name under which I learned about it. Both my and my wife’s Irish forebears arrived in the United States in 1847, when the famine was at its height; it’s not someone else’s history I’m talking about.

    To your point, my understanding is that, by the 1840s, the Irish had been forced to survive on tiny plots of land in which the only viable staple crop was the potato. That is, in any case, how it was explained to me by my grandfather when I was a child. If I’m wrong about this I’ll be happy to be corrected, though I’d appreciate it if we could leave off the scolding tone. The British government exacerbated the famine by refusing to help and by continuing the export food from Ireland even when the famine was at its height. This policy was justified– as I understand it– on the base of laissez-faire economics, which makes the Irish famine Libertarianism’s Holodomor.

    Second, though, part of what I’m driving at is an understanding of Irish-American history and culture that is more than the usual litany of Famine-NINA-Jack&Bobby. It’s my view that we need that broader view of our history if we’re going to have any future beyond fading into WASPhood and suburbia and periodically inflicting ourselves upon the inhabitants of Dublin.

  149. For a while now, (since you moved, really) I’ve been carting around a book I meant to give to you at the potluck, called “It’s and Old New England Custom.” Chapter 10, “To thirst after strange Gods” struck me as something you’d find particularly amusing.

    In particular, a sect called the Dorrellites, after one William Dorrell, based in Leyden, Massachusetts. They apparently professed veganism, free love, and, for the faithful, personal immunity from bodily harm. Dorrell liked to proclaim “No arm of flesh can hurt me.” This came to an end in 1800, when one Captain Ezekial Foster responded by punching Dorrell in the face and knocking him down. When Dorrell got up Foster knocked him down again, then informed Dorrell he intended to keep it up until he recanted. Dorrell then told his followers he guessed he’d led them all on a wild goose chase for long enough.

    It’s rather brief and not at all scholarly, but mentions the Live For Evers, the Higginsites, the Palestine Emigration Association and the Rogerenes.

  150. Thank you for the link to the interrogation of Jacob the Chandler, SamChevre! In light of JMG’s remarks above, it jumped out to me how often the interrogator tried to refute or ridicule Jacob’s opinions simply by calling him a weaver, e.g. in this paragraph:

    “Exactly; God has revealed it to the weavers at the loom, to the cobblers on their bench, and to bellows-menders, lantern-tinkers, scissorsgrinders, broom makers, thatchers, and all sorts of riff-raff, and poor, filthy, and lousy beggars. And to us ecclesiastics who have studied from our youth, night and day, He has concealed it. Just see how we are tormented. You Anabaptists are certainly fine fellows to understand the holy Scriptures; for before you are rebaptized, you can’t tell A from B, but as soon as you are baptized, you can read and write. If the devil and his mother have not a hand in this, I do not understand any thing about you people.”

  151. @Martin

    I was raised Baptist. We do not believe in infant baptism; the decision to accept Jesus in your heart as your Savior and to be baptized has to be your own. (Children who die before an “age of accountability”, which varies by church but is roughly puberty, go to Heaven.) If you have done that, you are a baptized Christian, are saved, and will go to Heaven, but you are not necessarily “a Baptist” (which generally requires actual membership in a Baptist church).

    It strikes me that the age of accountability is similar in nature to some astrologers’ interpretation of the meaning of the first Saturn return – prior to that point, you’re not actually accumulating real karma in this life but simply suffering (or, as case may be, benefiting from) the effects of the karma in your previous lives. The age of accountability is closer to a Jupiter return (though no practicing Baptist would be thinking in those terms; astrology is emphatically not part of their theology!), but the principle is similar.

  152. @Brendhelm,
    I was being a bit facetious. I know I am not really a Baptist just because of late baptism. In my case, it was a form of insurance policy rather than a profession of belief.

    Which begs the question: how much of magic is a form of insurance? Reading the theories about the origin of the Newport Tower, I was struck by just how chancy travel was in bygone days compared to now. Until a couple of months ago you could schedule a trip to the other side of the world a year hence and be confident that you’d arrive, although maybe your baggage wouldn’t. You had no need of magic or incantations to bless your trip.

    Then there are common superstitions, such as saying, “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Basically, you are casting a protection spell. Perhaps JMG will enlarge on the difference between superstition and magic at some point.

    @Rita,
    I briefly dated a lion tamer’s daughter. He was a small, irascible German who had been in the merchant marine. He told me in the 1930s they had sailed through waters dotted with bags of coffee as far as the eye could see, the result of Brazilian farmers dumping coffee to keep prices up.

  153. @Matthias,
    Friar Cornelis comes across as an absolute horse’s posterior. As we would say today, arguing from eminence instead of evidence.

    For those who haven’t read the disputation, the passage quoted should be read in a snarky tone of voice. He was obviously stung by the immediately preceding passage, which qualifies as a perfect squelch.

    Friar Cornelis: …I have attended the university at Louvain, and studied divinity so long, and yet I do not understand anything at all about St. John’s Apocalypse; this is a fact.

    Jacob de Roore: Therefore Christ thanked His heavenly Father, that He had revealed and made it known to babes, and hid it from the wise of this world, as is written, Matt. 11:25.

  154. John–

    Re hippies and communes and magic

    I always preferred the Transcendentalists to the Flower Children, anyway 🙂

    If I remember correctly, there is a narrative of a religious commune in the area back in the 1840s or so in the local history reference section of the county library. I’ll have to see if I can find it again once the libraries here re-open.

  155. Mention upthread of the “freelove” preaching Dorellites, reminded me that in one printed family geneology I have, which traces thousands of Americans descendended from one William Sabin who settled in Rehoboth (in what is now Rhode Island?) in 1640, there appear mentions of at least four different women, born between around 1740 and 1795 whose given name was “Freelove”. One of these was born in Newport, RI, one in Digby County, Nova Scotia, and two (mother and daughter) in Worcester, MA.

    Other family names ran to the biblical – Mary, Susannah, Benjamin, Gideon, etc. I’ve always been intensely curious as to how “Freelove” ended up being (apparently) an acceptable woman’s given name in 18th century New England and Nova Scotia. As far as I can tell, these were “regular church folks” of the congregationalist kind, but perhaps there is a lot more to this that I can find in the geneology itself.

    If anyone can throw light on this, I’d be very grateful.

  156. I had a fun surprise this morning when, via a newsletter from the state’s department of historical preservation and archaeology, I discovered that Indiana is home to apparently the nation’s oldest continually active Spriritualist camp, Camp Chesterfield in Anderson, IN. Their website is here: and there’s an interesting article about them on the state history department’s blog, .

  157. Lady Cutekitten: re kulning, that’s a Norwegian tradition as well (called kulokk or kulokkr). The volva I did a bit of Heathenry training with, Kari Tauring, incorporates it into many of her own songs. If you can get your hands on a copy of “Wizard Women of the North”, a compilation album put out by Northside Records some years ago, there are some examples there as well. Like bagpipes (for us piping aficionadoes): haunting, magical, and startlingly loud…

  158. @Scotlyn

    For “Freelove” and similar names, take a look at “Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature” by Charles W. Bardsley (1888), wideluy available for downloading on the web. The reference is to the free (that is, unearned) love that God has toward mankind.

    One of the most remarkable examples (IIRC) is PraiseGod Barebones, who named a son If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-Thou-Wouldst-Be-Damned Barebones.

    Jonathan Brewster (of Mayflower fame) named his first son Jonathan, but his next four children were named Patience, Fear, Love and Wrestling. (The first two were girls, the last two boys.) Patience and Prudence were extremely common girls’ names in old New England, and still persist in some families down to today: I had a student once named Patience. Two nearby islands in Narragansett Bay are also named Patience and Prudence islands.

  159. Rita, regarding the dumping of oranges during the Depression, several of my great uncles and aunts in the Pomona area had their crops dumped in the L.A. River in the ’30s to keep them from going to Hitler’s Germany. This courtesy of Harry Bridges’ longshoreman’s union which was very ‘leftist’ and anti-Nazi and anti-mob.

  160. @Sara: That’s a great idea! Once the lockdown is over, I will have a walk through some cemeteries in the city to have a look at the headstones. There’s actually a tiny graveyard in the peri-urban area where we live which looks to be very old, I will look at those headstones there too.

  161. Native Americans and their traditions are thoughts I have had a lot about since this series began and I am sure we’ll get more insights into them when the timing is right. It’s not a surprise to hear about Vine Deloria again. After your series of posts last summer I went out and got his book “God is Red” and have been deeply influenced by it. With a lot of focus being on Western occultism especially, there’s probably been a lack of research into the occultism of the indigenous peoples here as there just general has been. I bet we’d uncover a fair amount of telluric currents there when considering how many stories tell of Native peoples being born out of the earth. Which reminds me, even the Abrahamic beliefs mention this with our being formed out of the earth. There’s undoubtedly a lot to be uncovered yet. I wouldn’t be the least surprised it understanding telluric currents/energies was once better understood and has simply been lost.

  162. Once again, I’d like to apologize to you, Mr. Greer, for a comment that is rather irrelevant to the topic of this post.
    I read the book ‘Gandhian Economics’ by Ram Swarup, in which the author makes the points that E. F. Schumacher made in ‘Small is Beautiful’. Towards the end of the book, the author writes that he is not against large scale industry in principle, only that it should be resorted to only when appropriate tech enabled small industries cannot step up to the task.
    That got me thinking a bit. To be fair to the author, he wasn’t aware of Hubbert’s curve, and other points about technology/technologies that you have made in your books and blog posts. But still, I think that his point about large scale industry is relevant, especially when you consider that technologies like rail, which need large-scale industry to produce, maintain and operate, will possibly be there even in the deindustrial future (since the energy consumption will be less in general, hydropower might be able to power a low-tech, early 20th century type railway system).
    I’d like to read your take on this.

  163. Hi all,
    An interesting follow-up to what Reese posted regarding horses in Native American culture. A similar debate exists in Indology (that is, the Indians of India), where the much touted ‘Aryan Invasion’ Theory is on its last legs after being battered by barrages of archeological, philological and liturgical evidence. Leaving aside the fact that to most traditional Indians the whole theory is anathema as it seeks to rip apart the indigenous culture from the sacred land and transplant it to some Caucasian foreign land, a major plank of this theory (apart from a few skeletons and solitary linguistic connections) was that the Vedic Aryans brought the horse into India.

    This article sums it up quite a bit, the horse described in the Vedas has 34 ribs, not 36 as the modern Central Asian breed does, and repeated unearthings of these Indian horses have been found in Indus-Valley sites.

    https://www.academia.edu/23185706/The_Horse_and_the_Aryan_Debate

    When I read Black Elk Speaks a few years ago, I noted that the hymns described in their rituals held a very strong significance for the horse and used them as a metaphor, which had many similarities to the Vedic hymns I am familiar with. At the time, I thought it was impossible that the hose could have become so central to their rituals in merely a couple of hundred years, so your link really confirmed my hypothesis that the horse the Native Americans domesticated were native to America.

    YCS

  164. @Tom & @JMG (RE: NJ magical history) The book Albions Seed has an entry on the attitudes toward magic by the Quakers who were the main settlers of West Jersey it can be found online- Delaware Magic Ways: The Quaker Obsession with Spiritualism

  165. Dear John, I’ve been excited to see your recent posts detailing the eccentric Behmenist lineage of New England colonies, as I have been fascinated with Boehme for a while. I have a question, which I’ll try to keep brief. 

    What I’ve found by digging around the work from the current crop of Boehme scholars is that it tends to be mostly book history: examining the complex networks of Boehme enthusiasts and readers across the Netherlands, England, and America. However, not a lot of scholars have addressed why Boehme was so widely popular with what you rightly identify as an audience of self-educated craftspeople. 

    I’m sure you’ve read him, so know that his prose is often incomprehensible. Hegel said as much when he described Boehme’s style as “barbaric”  (but with a deep philosophical heart). My question for you is how do you square his ideas with his popular reception? I understand his attractiveness to a philosopher, but am curious about what you think is central about Boehme’s philosophy that made it so attractive to the radical sectarians.

    For what it’s worth, I think that Boehme has a long, often imperceptible, legacy through Romantic thought via Hegel, Schelling, Blake, Coleridge, etc., because of his dialectic principle of the Three-Fold. However, I’m curious to know what you think.

  166. Dear JMG, did you had time to do the mundane chart for the EU “birth” ?
    My souces have informed me that EU breakup is indeed now very close.

    On the other hand, the same sources said that the USA will break up in three blocks in the future (it seems to me that they intended that it will happen in a 50 years horizon, maybe more… they were not so clear about this). I suppose that your mundane charts are unable to cover more than a year, so maybe a different astrological tecnique is needed here…

    Have a nice day
    Phitio

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