The Grammar of Magic

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Sigilium Dei Ameth-John Dee
Writing and magic have always been closely associated. The Egyptian God Thoth was thought to be  the inventor of writing and the patron of every magical art. The considerable cultural contact and resulting overlap over the centuries because of conquest and trade between Egypt, Greece and Rome led to the deities Hermes and Mercury who shared many of the same attributes as Thoth before they all further blended together, creating the composite figure that was to later a immeasurable influence in the history of ideas, Hermes Trismegistus. At a later date and further north in what Roman writers christened as Ultima Thule, Odin, was the God of Seid (Sorcery) and, as described in the strange scene where Odin sacrifices himself to himself in Havamal, the inventor of runes which it is suggested throughout Norse mythology as being an alphabet with an inherently magical purpose. Even in modern day English the connection remains; spell needs no explanation and a grimoire refers to grammaire which is a book of Latin grammar. Continue reading

Dreams of Desire 23 (Elle)

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Elle-Gustav Adolphe-Mossa 1905
A delirious summation of late Decadent motifs and misogyny, Mossa’s Elle presents a vision of the cosmic and mythological femme fatale. A gigantic female figure, Elle, whose baby doll face contrasts sharply with the full sensuous body sits provocatively atop a mountain of predominantly male corpses and bodies. The only colouration on her pale skin is the tiny hand prints of blood left on her fleshy thighs by her doomed victims. Her shadowed gaze is seductively direct beneath the three skulls she sports in her hairdo, watched over by two ill-omened ravens.

A potent if somewhat tawdry (but the Symbolists were never very restrained) combination of Biblical and mythological references, Elle could represent the apocalyptic Whore of Babylon or is maybe an allusion to the Valkyries of Norse Mythology (Wagner was the favourite composer of the Symbolists). The Valkyries would choose half the slain of the battlefield to come to Valhalla in preparation for Ragnarok (or Gotterdammerung in German, the twilight of the gods). Ravens were a bird considered sacred and intimately connected to Odin the All-Father who was always accompanied by two named Huginn and Muginn (Thought and Memory).