Fairy summoning in the Florentine Renaissance period

A supernaturally pretty fairy deludes men’s hearts.

There are magical elements in religion, and there are religious facets to the practice of magic, as succinctly summed up by Sir Walter Raleigh: “The art of magic is the art of worshiping God.” That’s how I feel and what I see during my Dutiful Sunday Morning Masses, the ancient rite of the Church, a perennial panoply of syncretism with its splendid paraphernalia of prayers and the liturgical ceremony of rites and mechanical recitation of prayers; it is the melding of religions or beliefs of the similar elements but of different origins. Hence, to come upon an article in the recent issue of BBC History Magazine about an academic study by a certain British scholar of the existence of fairies in the context of the validity of cultural and historical artifacts gave me an uncanny pleasure.

The famous Dr. Faust, summoning Mephistopheles for his service

In fact, Religion (that is, Christianity) and Magic (in the forms of divination and sorcery) are not to be seen as polar opposites and antithetical systems of belief because they are interdisciplinary agencies of attempting to seeking and offering a panacea to our dilemmas – physical, metaphysical – competing for supremacy in propitiation. Such mysteriously syncretic elements of the two different agencies of beliefs became the academic subjects of intellectuals, such as Francis Bacon and John Aubrey who accepted the potentialities of physiognomy as an infallible guide to predicting one’s character and argued for the validity of non-Christian practice based on certain intellectual bases therein. With this in mind, you would not be surprised to learn that fairy summoning rituals were all the rage in the Renaissance period (15th~17th centuries), indiscriminately practiced by all strata of society, learned or ignorant, rich or poor, Christian or pagan. The author of the article informed the reader that the early Renaissance idea of fairies was pretty nebulous and varied with a wide arc of wonder and trepidation and that the dainty image of ever famous “Tinker-bell” was a Victorian construction of the whole fairy race.

Then, how did the “real” fairies look? Although there is no magisterial, definitive version of the physiognomy of a fairy, a collective description gleaned from various records boils down to it as a supernaturally attractive man/woman imperiling the souls of whoever it was summoned to, which is reminded of incubus/succubus, consecutively. Notwithstanding the dubious nature of fairies, the invocation of fairies halfway between angels and devils was widely used in hope to (1) acquire medical knowledge, such as whereabouts of herbs and their properties; (2) delight in the highest degree of sensual ecstasy; and (3) reveal the future and prevent from misfortune in advance. Be it as it may seem wholly pagan, the summoning ritual was surprisingly required for God’s intervention because it included periods of purification through abstinence, fasting, and prayer in preparation, all of which would testify to the sanctity of the performer ministering to the moral and ethical character. God willing, a fairy at request manifested to the summoner, but he should not come out of the circle he had drawn because it protected from sudden maleficence of the ambiguous fairy.

Delphic Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel fresco by Michelangelo

In sum, the article was an elegant primer for a further interdisciplinary study of literature, religion, and folklore from the medieval times to the Reformation period and possible stretching to this date. The exemplary texts that spring to my mind are Religion and The Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas and Christopher Marlowe’s version of the legend of Dr. Faust, both of which are excellent testaments to the contextualization of the esoteric knowledge on the grounds of intellectual bases into academic studies of social, cultural, and historical facets of different zeitgeists, which also serve as invaluable literary artifacts to epochal changes. But for all that is worth, this relation between religion and magic is commensal, exhibiting a mesmerizing consilience of gods and God, profane and holy, pagan and ecclesiastical, forbidden, and disciplined, as superbly unfolded in the Sistine Chapel fresco, prodigiously expressed by Michelangelo.



A travesty of some things

I’m thrilled to read good stuff- I mean a real good one!

Oscar Wilde, the wonderfully strange writer with a keen eye on the panoply of human behaviors, knew about voyeuristic streaks on human nature when he said thus: “One must keep a diary when traveling anywhere by train or coach to read something sensational.” Maybe that’s why people like to read the lives of others. Maybe that’s why the memoir, which I regard very much as a diary written backward in time, always bestride the bestselling list of nonfiction of The New York Times Book Review, which has become a formidably profitable genre of American literature. Admittedly, it’s awe-inspiring to read a success story of one whose hardscrabble background is a fortiori certifiable and renders a kind of feel-good sentiment with something of a vicarious experience to the reader sharing similar constraints of life in one way or another, or it may seem so. Frankly, any of the best-selling memoirs can hardly be less a modern version of Cinderella story than it seems to me, which is nothing but a proud exhibition of achievements by a select few (“The Chosen”) in the melee.

I might be cruel, only to be real. I am all the more respectful of anyone who has risen above biological/social inhibitions in his/her own fashion. But this topic of Triumph of Will over difficulties has become a literary fad, as though anyone who had rough and tough times in growing up somewhere in the backwater of downtrodden south or mid-western regions were suddenly in a zealous Olympic competition of writing the most heart-wrenching personal story on one cardinal condition: that the writer must have a very good career that provisions him/her with a nice place to live and loving, understanding significant other into the bargain. That is, unless a would-be writer of memoir is well-established in society, it’s not worth the writing of the story because after all, who’s gonna read your story if you still live among the melee with some ordinary, if not nondescript, job with meager income to barely get by despite your noble resilient spirit and evergreen hope to better yourself?

It’s all derivative of one model!

For example, the October 7, 2018 issue of The New York Times Review carries an elegant book review of “Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction”, a newest memoir of a certain popular illustrator-writer of children’s books named Jarrett Krosoczka, hailed as another survivor of economic and social determinism. The review presents the book as a courageous live-to-tell account of his childhood shadowed by his mother’s drug addiction and of his triumphant accomplishment as a successful artist who can presumably inspire many kids unfortunately mired in disadvantaged surroundings through no faults of their own. The spirit is commendable, but the gist is visceral. According to the elegant summary of the book, Krosoczka was better off than many other kids in his station because he had lumpish but loving grandparents who took care of him and encouraged his artistic inclinations, plus a cast of odd but good characters that complemented the other void of affectionate attention needed for a child. Back in our real nonfiction contemporary life, how many kids are fortunate to be endowed with the luck he had, and what if a kid struggling to escape from the plight with his intelligence and industry turned out to be just an ordinary adult still laboring to make the ends meet, while still secretly entertaining the thought of becoming somebody in his solitude? Would you think that his life is a failure? The memoir of this kind is more of a resume of individual experiences and achievements that, in a twist of irony, provokes a sort of catharsis in the reader as if he were watching a television drama that would made him feel like living in a holistic virtual reality.

In all fairness of my acerbic and arbitrary opinion on the review of the aforesaid memoir, it goes against the grain not to point out other popular memoirs perching on the best-selling list: Educated by Tara Westover is about her story of how she got away from her bohemian parents to immerse herself in scholarship; Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, another one by a Yale Law School Graduate recounting the struggles of the white working class struggles through the story of his own impoverished childhood; Heartland by Sarah Smarsh, a daughter of a poor wheat farmer in Kansas telling her poverty-stricken childhood into adolescence and the hard lives of the working class in the Mid-West; and finally, Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, revealing her errant childhood and her struggle to be away from the rabble that led her to a gainful literary success. And I suspect that there will be more memoirs to be published in future like new soppy television movies in production.

Am I being too acerbic? But that is how I feel.

As someone who regards Courage, Endeavor, and Resilience as great American drama in three acts, I am all for reading about someone who would continue his/her secret aspiration, while keeping the foot firmly grounded in reality, such as Laura Ingalles Wilder, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte, all of whom continued to tend their ordinary daily duties and responsibilities even after their literary success. To say it’s an anachronistic and antediluvian mode of thinking in the 21st century is to depreciate their literary geniuses and modus vivendi peculiar to the ethos of their times. However, the love of the writing must not corrupt into the worship of the hero. It’s the sense of the writer’s spirit that addresses the spirit of the reader, not the pageantry accolades of material successes that seem to be the bedrock of the memoir riding on the crest of popularity of rags-to-riches telltale revelations. We might live in an Orwellian world of reality prioritizing the ostentatious display of wealth or power, but we shall not devalue the truthfulness and value of ordinary life where the meaning of life depends upon whether or not we fulfill the demands placed upon our daily tasks however insignificant or trifle they may seem. For this reason, I don’t subscribe to the popularity of the best-selling Cinderella memoirs in which the sacredness of ordinariness in combination with the peculiar magic of literature is conspicuous by its absence.

Vet’s long-lost wallet comes home

RE: 8/26/2018 The Los Angeles Times article of “Long-lost wallet’s unlikely return”

For the times passed by, you can just look away and say, “they are gone away” because they are woven by your memories that you have collected through life, willed or unwilled. They become part of you, making you of spirit, fire, and dew, an unique star in a constellation of the universe. Hence nothing could be more pleasingly surprising than discovering that part of you or your beloved kept in photographic images or words of the frozen time, evocative of distant nostalgia that beckons you to reminisce about them, by a happy stroke of serendipity paired with benevolence of a stranger. Something like that happened to Ms. Sharon Moore, a daughter of one former army corporal Robert McCusker.

When Ms. Moore received a “Friend” request from a certain Frenchman named Patrick Caubet on her Facebook page, she deleted it. But then Mr. Caubet messaged her inquiring about the lost wallet of her father Mr. McCusker with the pictures and documents contained therein that he had accidentally found in a basement of his building presumably used as an America officers’ social club. This time she responded and verified that it was her father’s. Prior to Mr. Caubet’s contacting Ms. Moore, he had launched a campaign for locating the rightful owner of the wallet, which encompassed an aid of his English-speaking friend and inquiries to the Pentagon and the U.S. Embassy for help to no avail. Then the help came from a French military office in Paris that located the names of Mr. McCusker’s children in just days. Being a military man himself with a certain feeling of soldierly camaraderie, he was determined to succeed in his campaign, which ultimately came to fruition.

Thanks to this benevolent efforts of one French military man, Ms. Moore and her brother living in Dover, New Hampshire, could reminisce about the lost pages of his Korean War veteran father who had died in 1983. The wallet had pictures of their mother and aunt, military documents, Massachusett Driver’s License, and a Social Security Card, all of which were still kept in a mint condition. Ms. Moore said that since she had her father’s Purple Heart, her brother would be in possession of the wallet that their father had lost on his way from the Korean War to home. In return of her gratitude, Ms. Moore sent Mr. Caubet a lovely basket full of sweet jars of maple syrup she had made herself, some of the candy her father had enjoyed, and a New England Patriots Jerky. Thus, the wallet became their treasure of their beloved father’s memories that they had not known – the terra incognita of their father’s memories before they came to the world -. It became the part of their memories that bound them together to the legacy of their lineage, reminding themselves of their father’s valorous war efforts as a soldier and of his tender loving memories of their mother as a man.

Amid the news of endless politicking, peddling of social media that goes beyond reasonable measures, and a litany of social ills, this article stroke me as a bonanza of altruism that still thankfully kept alive in everyday life, a fresh breath of air that made me feel grateful and hopeful for our future in which so long as we don’t lose a thread of sanity and milk of human kindness, we can make constraints of our lives bearable with a lightheartedness. The kindness of the Frenchman speaks to us that no matter what language you speak, the feelings and emotions that you and I have can strike the chords of our humanness because the principles of reason and of sentiment are universal in all human creatures. The return of the lost wallet as the living record of Ms. Moore’s father attests to the truth.