Psychics and the Pandemic

Excerpted from the New York Times, this article describes how psychics are moving to more online readings and the rising popularity of consulting psychics during this stressful time.

PsychicWhat, if Anything, Can Psychics Tell Us About All of This?

Demand for their services has illuminated another kind of health crisis.

A few weeks before the U.S. presidential election, Zulema Hormaeche, a tarot reader in Los Angeles, chose a card to reflect the state of the nation. It was the one that depicts a tall building struck by lightning, with flames bursting from the top and occupants leaping to their deaths. “The Tower,” she said, “is the end of a system as we know it, the end of an era as we know it.”

Ms. Hormaeche has an intimate understanding of the ways this year upended people’s lives and sapped their optimism. She has peered into a huge number of homes during virtual consultations. Her clients tell her they are eating and drinking more, and that they feel desperately lonely. And sometimes they mention even more troubling details. One client, she said, described a dream in which she harmed her children.“All of us are feeling the fear of everybody,” Ms. Hormaeche said, and that fear, coupled with uncertainty about when it might abate, has caused demand for spiritual guidance to soar. According to data from Yelp, interest in businesses in the somewhat niche “Supernatural Readings” category more than doubled in April. Keen, an online marketplace for psychics, has reported a steep rise in customers.

These consultations function almost as armchair counseling sessions: clients can open up and have their thoughts reflected back at them through a nonscientific — even mystical — lens. And while there is good reason to doubt the material of psychic readings (the mystical realm being inherently unknowable, or at least, endlessly interpretable), these consultations provide comfort for some.

 

The Power of Circles

CirclesCircles are a very mystical form. They are considered the perfect shape and for that reason, they hold great meaning in folklore and superstition.From King Arthur's round table to chanting circles to drumming circles, even to bagels which are eaten to promote good luck on certain holidays, the circle is a perfect form to represent the full completion of the life cycle.

Circling is said to form a protective shell around the person circled. That is one explanation for the bride circling the groom at Jewish weddings.

More recently Circling has taken on a more psychological adaptation incorporating meditation, conversation and perhaps a bit of performance art.


Find Your Astrological Demon

Hakim Bashara writes in Hyperallergic about a book on Persian Mysticism located in Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. It is an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology from Iran that includes 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels.

Demons, genies, and evil spirits permeate ancient occult traditions in Iran and neighboring countries. An early 20th-century Persian manuscript on magic and astrology held at Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections provides a glimpse into this mystical world with dozens of watercolor illustrations of demonic, otherworldly creatures.

Dated to 1921, Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Wonders of Creation) includes an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology, a book of spells listing incantation and talismans, and 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels. Several texts accompanying the illustrations in Arabic and Farsi are dated from 1911 to 1921.

A closing line at the end of the book suggests that it is composed of two main texts. It reads, “The book of the ‘Wonders of Creation’ and ‘The Seventy Two Demons’ have been completed.” It is not entirely clear which text is which, but Ali Karjoo-Ravary, an assistant professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, tells Hyperallergic that the illustrated book of demons is most likely the second.

An early 20-century depiction of a demon from the Persian manuscript Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Images courtesy of Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections; all images are from Princeton Islamic MSS 3rd. Series No. 349)

Demons, genies, and evil spirits permeate ancient occult traditions in Iran and neighboring countries. An early 20th-century Persian manuscript on magic and astrology held at Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections provides a glimpse into this mystical world with dozens of watercolor illustrations of demonic, otherworldly creatures.

Dated to 1921, Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Wonders of Creation) includes an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology, a book of spells listing incantation and talismans, and 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels. Several texts accompanying the illustrations in Arabic and Farsi are dated from 1911 to 1921.

A closing line at the end of the book suggests that it is composed of two main texts. It reads, “The book of the ‘Wonders of Creation’ and ‘The Seventy Two Demons’ have been completed.” It is not entirely clear which text is which, but Ali Karjoo-Ravary, an assistant professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, tells Hyperallergic that the illustrated book of demons is most likely the second.

Aries
Taurus

“This text describes the different demons associated with each zodiac sign and the ailments associated with each and some remedies,” Karjoo-Ravary, who published a blog post about the manuscript in 2017, says.

The zodiac demons are introduced as a series of menacing (although somewhat endearing) beasts, some multi-headed. Each is depicted with cuffs on its clawed or hoofed limbs, suggesting that these creatures had been bound or confined.

Other illustrations show the monstrous demons in action, attempting to inflict harm on humans with inscriptions of spells and incantations in Farsi. These latter drawings, according to Karjoo-Ravary, describe ailments and the demons associated with them, together with instructions on how to exorcise them. For instance, one inscription instructs sorcerers to take a handful of soil from underneath the feet of the possessed person and repeat the following sentence seven times: “God of the heavens and the earth, hurry, hurry, bring back, bring back, bring back the love for virtue.”

By contrast, the manuscript also includes illustrations of winged angels like Michael and Gabriel, who are summoned to expel demons and malign spirits.

The author of the demonology book attributes his knowledge to the court of Biblical King Solomon, who was believed to possess power over demons and spirits. However, the author’s identity remains a mystery. “We don’t know much about this figure other than the fact that he wrote this book, that he had some artistic skill,” Karjoo-Ravary says.

The author signs the book as “Rammālbāshī, the son of Ja’far.” However, “Rammālbāshī” is not a name, but rather a profession derived from the Farsi word rammāl (healer, sorcerer).

“A rammāl was a type of occult expert to whom people would frequently turn in the event that they had problems that couldn’t be solved by normal means, such as sicknesses that appeared incurable,” says Karjoo-Ravary. “They could do many things, primarily divination (which their name alludes to), types of magic, breaking spells, exorcisms, spirit summoning.”

Persian demonology has a long tradition that predates Islam. The Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”), a 50,000 verse epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, is teeming with descriptions of battles between humans, devils, and demons.

Practicing rammāls still exist in Iran, typically performing palm-reading, faith-healing, and exorcism, but they have been outcast to the fringes of society.

“Rammāls are ridiculed by a good chunk of society,” says Karjoo-Ravary. “The official clerical establishment is mostly against them and magic, and even recently conservative critics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [former president of Iran] accused him of associating with rammāls and magicians.”

In his book, The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny, Islamic studies scholar Alireza Doostdar writes that secularizing officials and intellectuals in Iran of the early 20th-century disparaged rammāls as charlatans, and blamed them for Iran’s “backwardness” in comparison to the developed West on superstitious beliefs.

Sagittarius
Capricorn
Aquarius
Pisces

This negative attitude towards rammāls continued throughout the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Shi‘i clerics found the sorcerers’ use of the Islamic notions of the “world of the unseen” (Gheyb) and of genies (Jinn) as a threat to their spiritual hegemony.

And yet, these occult practices continue to thrive not just in Iran, but also in neighboring countries, according to Karjoo-Ravary. “Magic, the world of the jinn, demons, and exorcism are still around in most Muslim and other societies, even if they’ve been pushed into the peripheries by polite society.”

Leo
Libra
Inscriptions in Farsi include instructions to cast out the demons
Occult practices continue to thrive not just in Iran, but also in other societies

 


Signs and Symbols: The Zodiac

If you are in New York and have an interest in astrology, you may want to check out this exhibit at The Jewish Museum;

ThumbnailThe Jewish Museum will present Signs and Symbols: The Zodiac  from November 15, 2019 through September 14, 2020, featuring works from the Museum’s collection that depict the astrological signs. Jewish communities, adapting and adopting local practices over the centuries, incorporated these symbols into ceremonial objects, synagogue architecture, and art even though rabbinic authorities reject astrology as part of Jewish practice.

TO LEARN MORE: <https://thejewishmuseum.org/press/press-release/zodiac-scenes-release>

WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION: <https://thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/scenes-from-the-collection#signs-and-symbols>

Signs and Symbols: The Zodiac

 



A frequently heard congratulatory expression, mazal tov literally means “good luck” or “good zodiac sign,” the Hebrew term mazal signifying both “luck” and “zodiac sign.” (Justin’s note: More accurately, “mazal” means “luck of the stars” and “tov” means “good.”) Decorated Jewish marriage contracts often include the saying, as do Torah binders fashioned from the swaddling cloth used at a male infant’s circumcision. The boy’s name, followed by the phrase “born under a good sign” and his zodiac symbol, is also painted or embroidered on the binder.

In the Bible, Israelites are forbidden to practice divination and soothsaying. The Talmud recounts that, when aged Abraham learned that he was going to have a son, he said: “I looked at my astrological [map] and I am not fit to have a son.” To this God replied “there is no constellation for Israel,” implying that Jews should not look to the stars to know their fates. In medieval Spain, where Christianity, Islam, and Judaism converged for a time, astronomical works were translated, studied, and authored by Jews who were also versed in astrology. Yet the great rabbinical authority Moses Maimonides repudiated astrology, which he viewed as falsehood and star worship.

So how do we explain the popularity of the theme of the zodiac in Jewish art? Jews adopted and adapted local practices early on. Ancient synagogue mosaics featuring the zodiac were allowed as long as they were not venerated. Divested of human representations, the cycle appeared in painted interiors of Polish wooden synagogues, which were later destroyed during the Holocaust. Depictions of the signs both display distinctive traits and emulate other traditions. The zodiac was incorporated into richly decorated works, as seen in this gallery, used to safeguard the Torah or emphasize its majesty, and to mark life-cycle events and holidays

COME SEE THIS EXHIBITION AT THE JEWISH MUSEUM TO LEARN THE WIDE-RANGING USES OF THE SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC AROUND THE WORLD.

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128
(212) 423-3200
<https://thejewishmuseum.org/>


Witch Hunts - More than Just Salem. Scotland Had Many Many More

Witch memorialAs recently reported, there has been an under reporting of the degree and length of witch hunting in Scotland. Over the span of 200 years, thousands of people, mainly women, stood accused of witchcraft and were often tortured and executed.

I have found many articles recently and here is a map (with a clickable link) to see who and exactly where:

Mapping Scotland’s Grim History of Witch-Hunting

A new interactive map project from Edinburgh University charts the bloody wave of persecution directed at women accused of witchcraft in Scotland.

In 1662 a woman named Janet McNicol, who lived on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, went on trial for witchcraft. She confessed—possibly under torture—of having met the Devil three times, in the form of a leper, a “gross copperfaced man” and a good-looking fellow who saved her from drowning on the quayside. For reasons undetailed, McNicol managed to escape sentencing for 13 years.  When she was captured in 1673, she was strangled and her body was burnt—the usual punishment for witches in Scotland.

Thanks to a newly published interactive map, a dark passage in the history of Scotland is being brought into the light: the country’s fierce, centuries-long persecution of people accused of being witches. From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, close to 4,000 people in Scotland—overwhelmingly women—were tried for witchcraft. Up to two thirds of this number may have been executed.

This during a period when brutal witch persecution was relatively common in Europe. But in Scotland, the number of accused witches reached four to five times the European average. The new map of Scottish witch trials, created by students at Edinburgh University with data provided by its school of history, doesn’t just highlight the breadth of this persecution. It tells us exactly who the victims were, where they lived or were tried and, in some cases, even what they said.

The map’s geolocations were collated by University of Edinburgh Data and Visualisation intern Emma Carroll and the university’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. Embedded above, it’s perhaps most easy to navigate on its own website, and it makes for fascinating, if grim, browsing.

Take the fate of another woman featured on the map, Agnes Sampsoune. Employed by locals in the lowland town of North Berwick as a healer and midwife—sometimes to people of high status—Sampsoune got caught up in the North Berwick Witch Trials. More than 70 people were investigated in these notorious trials, on suspicion of raising storms intended to drown Scotland’s King James VI and his new wife, Anne of Denmark, on wedding journeys they made across the North Sea to and from Scandinavia. After being made to suffer a “pain most grievous” Sampsoune ended up implicating 59 other people for witchcraft; she admitted, among other things, to traveling in a chimney-shaped boat to meet the devil at sea, and baptizing a cat.

Such details, likely forced under torture, pose as many questions as they answer. Why did Europe witness this unprecedented spike in witch persecution—and why did Scotland in particular experience it more intensely? The possible answers are various and complex.

Edinburgh University’s Julian Goodare is one of the researchers and compilers of the database upon which the map is based. In his book The European Witch Hunt, he sees parallels between the witch craze and modern anxieties: “Nowadays we have a wider range of cultural fears, such as fears of aliens, paedophiles or terrorists. Some of these fears are encouraged by politicians, or by commercial popular culture… [for example] belief in abduction by aliens is the modern cultural form of a sleep disorder that shaped some accusations of witchcraft and witches’ own confessions.”

There were nonetheless some preconditions to the persecution that were specific to Early Modern Europe. Fears of being attacked by neighbors through magical means are not unique to the time, and nor are beliefs that visions of the type reported by some witch suspects have supernatural inspiration. What is specific to this period, however, is a vision of demonic witchcraft—the idea of a person, usually a woman, who channels the Devil’s power (but doesn’t possess any of their own) after entering into a covenant with the Evil One.

This specifically religious crime was a concept propagated not so much by a superstitious general populace as by an educated, empowered elite. It’s possible to trace this clash of wordviews even in the excerpts included on the map, where magical beliefs, such as those expressed in 1616 by Elspeth Reoch of Orkney, are repeatedly interpreted as diabolical. While trial records reference the Devil, admissions from the accused often talk instead of folkloric beliefs, such as fairies and the Queen of Elphame.

The trials happened during a period when, due to the Protestant reformation, Northern Europe’s institutions of both spiritual and temporal power were shifting seismically—perhaps more so in Scotland than elsewhere. The country’s witchcraft act of 1563, which kick-started its witch craze, came just three years after Scotland officially adopted Protestantism. As the state was urging people to accept the new faith, persecution of witches was encouraged by the King himself: James VI (who later became James I of England) not only believed himself to have been the subject of witchcraft during his wedding voyage, he published a defense of witch-hunting in 1597 called Daemonologie.

Add to this an ingrained cultural misogyny that deemed women more open to corruption and periods of want that followed poor harvests, and you have the makings of an ongoing social panic in which women bore the brunt of widespread fear and religious upheaval.

Official belief in witchcraft drained away in Scotland in the early 18th century, until the witchcraft acts were repealed in 1735. In recent years, there has been a rediscovery of this bloody history—and a determination to commemorate more fully its victims. The skeleton of Lillias Adie, one of the few accused whose body was not burned after her death in prison in 1704, is due to be returned to a burial site reimagined as a memorial.

There are also plans to reconstruct a historic lighthouse as a national monument to victims of witch persecutions. In the meantime, Scots have use this new map as a way to reckon with this wave of cruelty that happened not just in a vaguely misty faraway time, but in places they know, in some cases just around the corner.

About the Author

Feargus O'Sullivan

Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.