Monthly Archives: June 2020

Omnium Gatherum: 28jun2020

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for June 28, 2020

Here’s a variety of notable things I’ve recently found that you may also be interested in checking out:

This post was possible because of support from generous ongoing Patrons and Members of the newsletter. Both Patrons and Members get Omnium Gatherum posts delivered immediately and directly to their email. On the blog, this will be exclusive to Patrons for one year, after which I’ll make it publicly available to everyone so they can see what they’ve been missing.

But an emptiness filled my spirit, not forceful enough to be labeled depression. “Malaise” fit the bill nicely. When night settled in, I felt grateful. Sometimes sleep is the best way to surf time.

Rajnar Vajra, Her Scales Shine Like Music

Hermetic Quote Vajra Her Scales Shine Like Music malaise

Dance on Saturday

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dance on Saturday: Stories by Elwin Cotman, due August, 2020.

Cotman Dance on Saturday

The stories in Dance on Saturday were my first exposure to the work of Elwin Cotman, although some have evidently been previously published elsewhere. They range from a gritty magical realism (as in “Seven Watsons,” a story set in the Pittsburgh Job Corps) to a surreal mythic high fantasy (“The Son’s War,” featuring magically incredible craftsmanship). The longest of the stories in this collection is the titular “Dance on Saturday,” which treats a coterie of immortals in contemporary Pittsburgh, wearing the identities of a black church congregation.

Most of these tales have black protagonists, and the African-American experience furnishes notable and sophisticated inflections of Cotman’s fantasies. The unusual exception is the story “Among the Zoologists,” where the narrating character not only fails to signal a racial identity, but deftly avoids claiming a gender over forty pages which incidentally feature some hair-raising sexual escapades. That story also left me with an enhanced appreciation for Cotman’s work, because it demonstrated his intimate fondness for the 20th-century canon of pulp and comic-book fantastic literature, and thus his own writing’s remoteness from its conventions signals his active creativity and independence of mind.

He is a capable stylist as a writer. These six stories tended to be too long for me to finish in a single sitting, and I was consistently glad to pick up the book again at the earliest opportunity. The ends of his stories often break the narrative frame that he has established or transform its context. Each of the tales in Dance on Saturday is memorable for a different reason, and I’m glad to have read them all.

Blood of Baalshandor

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Blood of Baalshandor by Richard Lee Byers. [Note: the only place I currently find this in stock is at Miniature Market. But, presumably, it will show up in the usual places eventually, such as Amazon]

Byers Blood of Baalshandor Arkham Horror

After five Arkham Horror investigator novellas there was a hiatus, and the Dexter Drake entry Blood of Baalshandor is the first to appear for two years. In format it resembles its predecessors: a slender hardcover of about a hundred pages, with a color-illustrated appendix on glossy paper, and a little set of promotional Arkham Horror: The Card Game cards for the Dexter Drake character.

I had high hopes for this one, because the Dexter Drake chapter in The Investigators of Arkham Horror was my favorite from that book. Dex is a WW I veteran and a successful stage magician as “Drake the Great.” His childhood interest in magic has led him to both his career in legerdermain and an interest in actual sorcery. The Blood of Baalshandor centers on his relationship with his “lovely assistant” Molly Maxwell (“the Exotic Morgana”), with conflict generated by his coming out of the closet with respect to his occultist beliefs and the phenomena that she is then subjected to. The early part of the book has a nice Ninth Gate (i.e. Club Dumas) vibe, as Dex and Molly attend an underground auction of occult books and paraphernalia in Arkham.

The Blood of Baalshandor is the second Arkham Horror novella by author Richard Lee Bryers (the first instance of a returning author in the series), and I liked it better than his earlier entry Ire of the Void, although that one was pretty good. It furnishes a lot of subjective details about the working of magic in the Arkham Files setting, as Dex uses spells cobbled together from loose pages of the Necronomicon invoking the demon Yaztaroth. [ . . . (hover over to read this spoiler) . . . ]

The cards set Dexter up as a mystic-class character with additional access to rogue-class cards, and a special ability that enhances his use of assets. Besides the signature cards Molly Maxwell and Yaztaroth, the story also alludes to various established elements of the game, such as the level-1 rogue card Lockpicks, a natural part of Dex’s escape artist kit. I’m very much looking forward to trying out a Dexter deck soon.

Omnium Gatherum: 24jun2020

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for June 24, 2020

Here’s a variety of notable things I’ve recently found that you may also be interested in checking out:

This post was possible because of support from generous ongoing Patrons and Members of the newsletter. Both Patrons and Members get Omnium Gatherum posts delivered immediately and directly to their email. On the blog, this will be exclusive to Patrons for one year, after which I’ll make it publicly available to everyone so they can see what they’ve been missing.

Omnium Gatherum: 22jun2020

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for June 22, 2020

Here’s some things I’ve found that you may be interested in checking out:

This post was possible because of support from generous ongoing Patrons and Members of the newsletter. Both Patrons and Members get Omnium Gatherum posts delivered immediately and directly to their email. On the blog, this will be exclusive to Patrons for one year, after which I’ll make it publicly available to everyone so they can see what they’ve been missing.

Omnium Gatherum: 20jun2020

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for June 20, 2020

Today will be Summer Solstice, Sun in 0° Cancer. More precisely, Saturday 20 June 2020 at 21:43 UTC in the Northern Hemisphere; Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Also, later tonight, June 21, at 06:40 UTC, an annular solar eclipse. Moreover, Sun and the Moon will be conjunct in 00°21′ Cancer. Hope you have a merry Summer Solstice!

Let’s do another celebratory Omnium Gatherum open to all Patrons again! Here’s some things I’ve found that you may be interested in checking out:

This post was possible because of support from generous ongoing Patrons and Members of the newsletter. Both Patrons and Members get Omnium Gatherum posts delivered immediately and directly to their email. On the blog, this will be exclusive to Patrons for one year, after which I’ll make it publicly available to everyone so they can see what they’ve been missing.

Magic was just something people liked to believe in, something they thought they could feel or sense, something that made everything more than just mechanical certainty. Something that made them more than flesh and bone.

C Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust

Hermetic quote Cargill Sea of Rust more than flesh and bone

The Natural History of Religion

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Natural History of Religion by David Hume.

Hume The Natural History of Religion

Hume’s Natural History of Religion is an early foray into comparative religious studies. As a professed partisan of “genuine Theism and Religion” (21), Hume shows his own implicit theological orientation to be an unsurprising Enlightenment Deism. The “natural history” element of his account emphasizes what he understood to be the chronological priority of polytheism to (mono-) theism, and the general rooting of religious behavior and identity in relatively base fears and appetites.

As editor H.E. Root notes, Hume’s primary historical data are rather incomplete and under-interpreted from the perspective of more recent studies of the same questions. His overall polemical fabric, is, however, nicely woven. While giving greater theological credit to the theists (evidently the Abrahamic religions), he also notes that their loftier virtues are reflected in more significant vices than pagan polytheists ever exhibited. The second major arc of the text is a series of comparisons between polytheism and theism on the counts of “Persecution and Toleration,” “courage or abasement,” “reason or absurdity,” and “Doubt or Conviction.” In this sequence of short chapters, the illustrations grow more and more amusing, climaxing with a series of jokes about the Eucharist in the question of “Doubt or Conviction” (55-7).

After the sets of comparisons, Hume moves on to a pox on both houses section, in which he castigates religions generally on grounds of “impious conceptions of the divine nature” and “bad influence on morality.” These are the most contentious chapters, and likely the ones that especially earned the alarm and reprobation of his contemporaries. But they are soundly argued.

In his “Editor’s Introduction,” Root understands the final gesture of Hume’s text to be one proposing that philosophy be a “substitute for religion” (20). But Root had already observed that Hume “did not believe that religion was a ‘primary’ constituent of human nature” (14) and thus it was in no need of a substitute if philosophers or others were to turn away from it. Root also neglects the intellectual history of the centuries leading up to Hume, in which theology and philosophy were often construed as mutually antagonistic efforts. An empiricist such as Hume could not help but be a partisan of philosophy in this contest, and such partisanship was perhaps the motive guiding this entire text.