Pete 'Cardinal' Cox, the Peripatetic Poet (and sometime Laureate) of Peterborough, has published a new pamphlet of verses. Richly annotated as always (I'm sure I'm not the only annotation junkie out there) Codex Lilith deals with the alternative history of witchcraft - alternative, that is, to the Christian view of them all being devil-worshippers etc.
It's always good to know an author whose erudition is a little deeper and whose ideas are a bit stranger. Pete Cox has obviously read widely, and this latest booklet is chock-full of interesting images and information.
The first poem, 'Canon Episcopi', looks at the origins of the Church's witch-mania. I'd quite forgotten that the eponymous document spells out what was, for the time (c. 900 AD) a rational view of magic. The Abbott of Treves, Regino of Prum, insisted that witches merely believed that they could do magic. They had no real powers to harm anyone - a literal case of saying 'in your dreams'. Unfortunately, the Inquisition came along and reversed this common sense approach, and we all know what happened then.
As well as the theology of it all, of course, there's the folklore. We read of the Black Man, for instance, who is quite obviously not an African; of magical ointment and bodily transformation, and its relation to the werewolf legend; and of the revival of paganism in various forms, not least in Yuletide symbolism and other 'quaint' traditions. There's also a good point about the unusual background Willow Rosenberg, the Jewish witch in Buffy. That's what I like, popular culture as part of the greater weft and warp of history.
I never read a Cox pamphlet without discovering something that I really should have known already. In this case it's the Egyptologist Margaret Murray. She came to believe, after studying witch trials, that the accused were sometimes part of a genuine occult tradition dating back to prehistoric times. It's not accepted as a valid theory nowadays, but it's interesting to note that a respected scientist gave the world the ideas upon which innumerable horror novels and films have been based.
There's also plenty of humour here, often of the sly kind. Thus in 'A Golden Bough' we read of the familiar sacrifice, 'the fates say that the holy king must die'. The notes point out that Frazer's ideas had their greatest impact on the Scottish island of Summerisle. I suspect at least one police officer might wish that the great scholar had not 'returned the male principle to certain fertility cults', but there you go.
As always, Codex Lilith is free to any brave soul who sends off for it.
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