The Washington Symposium on Magic History, set for April 25-27, 2013 is now accepting on-line registrations, at www.magicposters.com Styled very much after the famed LA Conference on Magic History, this three day east coast event will feature an exclusive exhibit for its attendees only at the Library of Congress, consisting of highlights from the Houdini and McManus-Young Collections. In addition, the Symposium will host a huge dealers room offering vintage magic collectibles, an auction of vetted material, the screening of a new documentary film about magic, and a number of speakers on arcane topics of interest to magic history enthusiasts and collectors. Except for the Library of Congress exhibit, all events will take place at the award-winning Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, in Bethesda, MD, where a greatly discounted room rate is available for Symposium attendees. For more information, or to register on-line, go to at www.magicposters.com. This unusual and special event is likely to be a sell-out.
Of interest: Henry Ansgar Kelly's Canon Law and Chaucer on Licit and Illicit Magic in the 2010 collection Law and the Illicit In Medieval Europe (Ruth Mazo Karras, Joel Kaye, and Ann Matter, eds., University of Pennsylvania Press).
We've read the story that former First Lady Nancy Reagan regularly consulted an astrologer, and that Cherie Blair, wife of former British PM Tony Blair, used to follow some New Age practices (it's not entirely clear which ones, or how factual the stories were). But how many people knew at the time, or know now that William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada during some of its most difficult years (especially during the Second World War), took spiritualism seriously, attended seances in order to communicate with dead members of his families, and confided his spiritualist beliefs to his diary, apparently he thought that if the public, or his political adversaries, found out that he was a Spiritualist, his political career would be over? He was probably right about that. More here from Libraries and Archives Canada.
Emily Mann provides a selected bibliography of spiritualism here. It includes discussion of the origins of the movement, and annotations of sources (print and online materials), mostly secondary sources, but some primary materials. Very nice for those wanting to get started doing research in the subject.
Roger Pearse discusses Roman attitudes toward magic in this post from August 8, 2009. He begins,
There were three sets of Roman legislation relating to magic. There was an edict in the Twelve Tables (ca. 451 BC); the laws of Sulla (81 BC); and the legislation of Constantine and other Christian emperors (after 312 AD).
(Apologies to Mr. Pearse for having initially misspelled his name).
The primary aims of this Article are to deconstruct the evidence from the Salem witchcraft trials and to determine whether those prosecutions relied upon syndrome and profile evidence, and whether such, evidence played a substantial role in the convictions. The secondary aim is to determine whether modern cases employ evidentiary methods sufficiently similar to the Salem cases such that we should reconsider prosecutorial syndrome and profile evidence.
This Article concludes that prosecutorial syndrome evidence and, to a lesser degree, prosecutorial profile evidence, were relied upon in the Salem cases and were important to the convictions. Moreover, in modem cases, which rely on syndromes for purposes of conviction and profiles for purposes of reasonable suspicion and probable cause, the essential cognitive error in the Salem trials is still present in the use of syndrome and profile evidence: the belief that criminal behavior can be determined with sufficient certainty by considering constellations of behaviors in either victims or defendants. This Article argues that experience-based conclusions about the relationship between observed behaviors and crime, when not subjected to a more searching or science-based scrutiny, are both incomplete and laced with the potential for error.
As developed more fully in Part VI, infra, courts have shown a great willingness to accept prosecutorial profile and syndrome evidence, the validity of which is premised primarily on the experience of law enforcement officers and treating therapists. Courts have not been forceful in requiring proof of the underlying belief structures that animate profile and syndrome evidence, namely that crime is meaningfully related to defendant behavior and victim behavior. Part VI submits that current appreciation for scientific method, along with the Supreme Court's mandate that trial courts engage in rigorous "gatekeeping" of expert evidence" and amended Federal Rule of Evidence 702, collectively support greater proof of reliability and validity of prosecutorial syndrome and profile evidence prior to its admissibility at trial.
Although the comparison between the witchcraft trials of 1692 and modem trials may be considered inflammatory, it is important to remember that the experts relied upon in Salem were employing precepts that had been in use for approximately a century." Moreover, although witchcraft may not have been the cause, there were numerous examples of people and animals in Salem becoming sick and dying. Thus, some of the harm was very real, even if the cause misperceived. Finally, it is the respective methodology under comparison, not the actual evidence. The law does not always recognize its own errors while they are occurring, but often discovers them only in the refracted light of history.
Download the full text of the Article from SSRN at the link.
Professor Moriarty discusses seventeenth century and modern "ways of knowing" and their probative value, suggesting that while they haven't changed since 1692, the assumptions we make about what we observe certainly has. She points out that scientists sometimes term "insights" what they use to fuel hypotheses (and then test by the scientific method). I note that others term these insights something else ("visions" perhaps) and don't test them at all.
Professor Moriarty's piece links up nicely, it seems to me, with what we seem to be learning about magic and neuroscience, and how magicians (and others) deceive us so easily. As Hercule Poirot, a devotee of justice, as opposed to prosecution, and a remarkable though fictional figure-outer of puzzles, it gives one furiously to think. His creator, like other good mystery writers, knew a lot about deception herself. But that's material for another post, about mystery writers and magic.