Sunday, 30 October 2016

Force of argument

Daily Draw: Tarot de Marseille, Francois Chosson 1736 La Force

I went to a conference once where a female academic spoke of the hurt that is literally etched onto our bodies when our knowledge is rejected because of who we are. Outrageous I thought but surely an isolated case? University the apex of the school system so must be the best, people judged on the strength of their arguments right? Wrong. 

Female academics are routinely silenced by male academics especially if there is a whiff of feminism about their work. There can be nothing more threatening than challenging how space (aural and physical) is taken up. Intellectually able academics are silenced by the less well qualified (who have gone up the management rather than research route and probably shouldn't be in a university at all). 

There are so many ways to silence someone besides outright aggression or rudeness (when did a snigger count as serious academic critique?). You can give them so much teaching, so many students that there is no time to read a book chapter let alone write up an article. Keep them busy all through the summer on invented urgencies so as to isolate them from the wider academic community. Impose research priorities that suit yourself rather than building on people's actual skills and interests. Lend your support to other men regardless of (in spite of) the quality of their work. The list could go on and on. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Informal magic

Daily Draw: The Golden Tarot, The Visconti Sforza Deck, The Magician 

Today I have had time to indulge my love of history - magic in the informal sense of the word! Here is what I have learned. 

In late antiquity the boundaries between magic and religion were not clearly established. Romans engaged in a plethora of magical practices and these were often integral to or very similar to religious rituals. 

They divined the future by examining the entrails of animals, constructed formulas or amulets to attract good fortune, enchanted objects and cooked up potions. They meditated with hidden spiritual forces, made ointments and recited charms to heal, protect or harm other people. These practices were not so different from the sacrifices, ceremonies and prayers offered up to the Gods. 

By the fifth century BC the Greek word Mageia was being used to describe the practices of the Zoroastrian priest from Persia who were know as the magoi. 

The beliefs and practices attributed to the magoi were thought to be dark and dangerous because they were different to the Greek religion. Over time the word mageia was used pejoratively to refer to the practices of Greek and Roman peasants which deviated from the official religious practice of the Roman Empire. 

In Roman times the word mageia (magic) sedimented in the Latin language being used to denote deviant or different practices from the official code. During this time the word came to be used to refer to trickery or deceit. 

Loaded with this meaning the word magic was transmitted to the Latin rooted languages in the medieval period. The ancient idea of magic came to be conflated with the Christian concept of superstition. 

With the arrival of the monotheistic religions at the end of the Roman era attitudes towards magic were fundamentally changed. Believing only in one true God, Christians came to perceive a whole host of beliefs and practices as false or superstitious. Rituals performed by ancient peoples came to be seen as evil, related to demons thus in need of eradication. 

The new religious authorities wanted nothing less than the complete extirpation of allegedly superstitious beliefs. However magic was to occupy a central position in the medieval mindset with magical beliefs shared by medieval people at all levels of society. 

Source for today's post: Coursera: Introduction to Medieval Magic

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Subtle differences

Daily Draw, The Golden Tarot, The Visconti Sforza Deck

This fellow looks so young and cherub like to be real King. For comparison I had a look at the other kings in the deck. All young blond and cherub like, all on the same gold throne. At first sight...for some reason they bring to mind ancient medical theory of the four humors. 

Of all the kings HRH Swords head tilted down looks older, sadder, wiser, his eyes are sunken and his face more pinched - perhaps the result of too much emphasis on the life of the mind (melancholic - analytical, quiet, despondent). King Coins is the only one who smiles with his mouth open, a flushed and corpulent bon vivant - his jolly expression contrasts with the vice like grip he has on his coin (sanguine now but threaten his wealth and he could turn choleric)

HRH Cups is the only king who appears in profile. Like the King of Swords he has one foot off the plinth - perhaps the throne is not for him, perhaps he has no desire to 'win'. A peaceful person he offers rather than clings to his chalice (phlegmatic). The only King who looks truly calm and comfortable positioned on the throne is the King of Staves (perhaps all his humours are in balance). 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Relation of material to symbolic power

Daily Draw, The Golden Tarot, The Visconti Sforza Deck, Nine of Coins

Material resources - money, property, investments, stocks shares etc. Symbolic resource or power - accumulated prestige and honour exemplified by qualifications, titles, honorary positions, books. 

Symbolic power also inherent in certain buildings, works of art etc and can be embodied - gender, height, body size and shape, clothing, gestures, posture, speech. 

Are material and symbolic power so different or does one lead to the other and vice versa? 

Male domination is so rooted in our collective unconscious that we no longer even see it. 

Pierre Bourdieu, 1930-2002

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Compare and Contrast

Daily Draw: The Golden Tarot, The Visconti Sforza Deck

Facing left and wearing white gloves (symbol of innocence) the Knave suggests good intentions in the face of malign forces. 

Mary Packard writes that according to renaissance symbolism the red stocking and the white stocking indicates a conflict between lust and purity. Or as Stuart Kaplan (US games system version of the Visconti-Sforza) suggests they may just relate to the colours on the armorial shields depicted on the Knight of Swords and Staves and the Ace of Coins. 

I'm reminded by this of bad scholarship - believing the first thing you read or that every thing that is written must be true. And of the importance of research and cross-referencing. 

I don't know which interpretation is true. Perhaps they both are. At least I am aware there is debate and that makes me doubt my immediate interpretation that innocence is about drop off a cliff. 

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. 

RenĂ© Descartes, 1596-1650. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Women of accomplishment

Daily Draw: The Golden Tarot, The Visconti Sforza Deck, Three of Cups

In RWS inspired decks this card depicts three women joyful dance. Celebration, Creativity, Community. 

First things first. Community - I have neglected my tiny (but lovely) following of fellow bloggers (and women of accomplishment) this week - busy with work and AWOL for a whole week. Sorry :(. 

Creativity - lots of exchange with colleagues and students this week which has been hugely productive. Feeling much more excited about work now - not least because we are embedding gender across all management learning materials - speaks to colleagues interests and is better engaging learners - Woohoo. All. Round. Result. 

Celebration - through dialogue I learnt about an exhibition Women in Print - which celebrates the work of 22 iconic women (reformers, writers, artists, scientists) who changed Manchester and in some cases changed the course of British history.  Follow the link and enjoy :) 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Heaven is a construction site

Daily Draw, The Golden Tarot: The Visconti-Sforza Deck, The World

Two putti hold up a globe, a symbolic representation of heaven. Within the globe is a shining castle - a metaphor for the new Jerusalem. The putti on the right points to his heart - perhaps indicating that is where the kingdom of heaven is made. 

Writing in the twelth century Hildegard of Bingen depicted the return of the soul to heaven using architectural imagery. Humans construct their repentance and restoration as they participate in building the heavenly city. 

Hildegard was supervising the construction of Rupertsberg around 1150 and on her preaching tours she witnessed the passion for building in the Rhineland. It seems her personal life may also have influenced her interest in the imagery. In her autobiography Vita Hildegardis she writes that she dug a moat and constructed a wall around her sisters with the words of the scriptures, discipline and good habits in order to fortify them against evil. 

Throughout her Expositiones and other works and letters Hildegard repeatedly presents human efforts to achieve salvation using the construction metaphor. 

In a letter to Conrad, Bishop of Worms, Hildegard advises that one who follows God's commandments in doing good builds the heavenly Jerusalem whereas one who performs carnal deeds will fall from this edifice. She also says that one who renounces self-will decorates heavenly buildings with pearls, precious stones and the finest gold.  

Hildegard also conceives of heaven as constructed from living stones (people). She prays that Guibert of Gembloux continue in service so that he may become deserving of being a living stone in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In a letter to Bishop Gunther of Speyer she teaches that the foundations of the city consist of repentant sinners who have pressed down their sins through penance and form a kind of gravel bed for the city walls. 

By contrast the gem image is used to describe the radiant saints dwelling in the heavenly city. 

Hildegard never interiorizes the city as other contemporaries do. Constructing heaven does require the labour of the inner self but the imagery is not directed inward. Rather it is seen as an outward process reflecting the virtues' transport of stones up the ladder of salvation. 

Source for today's post: Mayne Keinzle, B. (2007) 'Constructing Heaven in Hildegard of Bingen's Expositiones Euangeliorum'  In Muessig, C. and Putter, A. (eds.) Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages,  Oxon: Routledge,  pp.34-43 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Chancer

Daily Draw: Etteilla Thoth Tarot, The Magician

One way to find out what was going on in the past is to look at suggestions for reform. It is not infallible - it seems that conduct books which advised young men not to spit in food to claim their share of a banquet were intended as humour. 

Still I read with interest Roger Bacon's 'Four general causes of human ignorance' which are: 

1. using weak and unreliable authority (sources)
2. custom and habit
3. prejudice (or following the crowd)
4. concealing one's own ignorance with an exhibition of apparent wisdom

The causes formed part of his broader proposal for the reform of the medieval universities. It would seem medieval scholars were by no means immune to academic fault (although we have to factor in Bacon's generally combative personality). 

Number four made me chuckle - if we banned that one the entire modern university system would collapse.

Being a chancer part of the job description - it is a matter of degree...

Monday, 10 October 2016


Daily Draw: The Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, Seven of Wands

Oh these naughtily insistent cards. I drew this at 9am couldn't think of an immediate history post so left it till tonight, shuffled and drew again - guess what same card :D

Pourparler - exchange of ideas. The more I read about medieval intellectuals the more I am impressed by their polymathy and productivity. Example - Roger Bacon who circa 1237-47 accepted an invitation to teach at the University of Paris and subsequently lectured on Latin Grammar, Aristotelian logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music. Who in our modern university system could do this now? 

In 1267 or 1268, Bacon sent the Pope his Opus Majus. This formed part of larger body of scholarly work of around a million words in about a year - an extraordinary example of academic productivity. 

Encompassing work on mathematics, optics, alchemy and astronomy the Opus was divided into seven sections  and was intended as a proposal for the reform of the university curriculum, the establishment of a library and the employment of experts to compose definitive texts on such topics as optics, astronomy (astrology) alchemy, agriculture (botany and zoology) medicine, experimental science - a philosophy of science to guide the others. 

And so the seeds were sown for the destruction of polymathy. Expertise, specialisation, being definitive. The emergence of a cadre of academics able to speak to only one subject (and within that probably only their own research tribe). 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Astrology and faith in the middle ages

Daily Draw: The Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, Stars

In this deck stars signifies interests and ideas. My book chapter was thus chosen - intellectual life c13-c15. Here is what I found: 

Learned astrology flourished in the thirteenth century. The learned and semi-learned clerical milieu was suffused with interest in occult science which they accommodated within orthodox Christian beliefs. The Franciscan Roger Bacon was just one prominent figure representative of a larger group of clerical scientists. Each produced their own unique blend of faith and science. 

The apparent tensions between free scientific inquiry and faith did not not impede clerical contributions to science. Actually much investigation was driven by religious concerns. 

This was was the backdrop for the emergence of astrological images - talismans used for protection whose efficacy could be explained by natural (astrological) causes. 

The origins of natural magic can be found in works such as the anonymous Speculum astronomie, in which the author foresaw a method of making and using talismans that did not involve the invocation of other deities but derived power from purely physical (celestial) sources. Thus he managed to achieve a compromise between the demands of faith (or Christian monopoly over ritual and communications with God and his celestial agents) and the burgeoning scientific interests in natural philosophy including astrology and divination. 

Another example of a melding of theology, ecclesiastic career and astrological speculation with no sense of personal inconsistency can be seen in Pierre d'Ailly's work. Here astrology is presented as part of the rational world view of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The belief that heavenly bodies had some influence on earthly matters was just as widespread as the belief that God had a plan for the world. 

For d'Ailly astrology was not some dark art by which he could alter the the course of life on earth but a rational science by which he could observe and understand the broad patterns of earthly events. In other words he believed he was using science to produce knowledge. 

Source for today's post: Ziegler, J. (2009) 'Faith and the intellectuals' In Rubin, M. and Simons, W. (eds.) The Cambridge history of Christianity: Christianity in western Europe c. 1100 - c. 1500. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 372-393. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A man rides into town with an offer (of sorts) confess or die

Daily Draw (Thursday) The Book of Thoth Ettiella Tarot, Knight of Cups

The annalist of the city of Worms tells us that in 1231

'There came by divine permission a miserable plague and most harsh sentence. for indeed there came a certain friar called Conrad Dors, and he was completely illiterate...and he brought with him a certain secular man named John who was one-eyed and maimed, and in truth utterly vile. These two, beginning...firstly among the poor, said that they knew who were heretics; and they began to burn them, those who confessed their guilt and refused to leave the sect...And they condemned many who in the hour of their death, called out with all their heart to our Lord Jesus Christ, and even in the fire strongly cried out, begging for the help of the Mother of God and all the saints.'

These two were then joined by the eloquent priest Conrad of Marburg. Led by him and with papal backing they continued their work. According to chronicler all three inquisitors were imperfect judges and 'without mercy' apparently boasting 'we would burn a hundred innocent people amongst whom there is one guilty'. 

These events in the medieval German Archdiocese of Mainz could be the earliest example of inquisition into heresy in the middle ages. Other accounts of Conrad Marburg's actions tell us that virtually no one could escape his clutches as freedom could only be won by confessing and (especially) by implicating others. 

Such dramatic accounts fit well with a popular view of medieval church and society as entirely repressive. But it is important to inquire a little more closely into the events around Mainz. 

The chronicle was written by an anonymous cleric who was clearly horrified by Conrad's actions. Further, the archbishop of Mainz wrote to the pope with misgivings stating that he had cautioned Conrad 'to proceed in so great a matter with more moderation and discretion, but he refused'. 

Full of zeal, Conrad made the possibly fatal error of accusing a number of powerful noblemen of heresy. When the case was brought before a synod of bishops and nobles in 1233 all charges were dismissed. Three days later Conrad was murdered and similar fates befell Conrad Dors and John. 

At first the pope wrote of Conrad as a martyr but unlike later murdered inquisitors he was never canonised. At a church council a year after his death one Bishop exclaimed 'Master Conrad of Marburg deserves to be dug up and burnt as a heretic'. 

So while Conrad went about his activities with the blessing of the Pope this does not mean that the church as a whole approved of his actions. Not every ecclesiastic agreed with his views or methods and and nor did the secular powers in society support them. 

As a conclusion to these sorry events a papal nuncio on inquisition was issued which meant that in future indiscriminate persecution was to be replaced by the methodical application of the law. 

The image of the dark middle ages can still affect scholarship but the image itself has a particular history. It was forged in the aftermath of the reformation. Protestant historians from the sixteenth century onwards sought the roots for their reforms in heresies of earlier times. They associated their contemporary struggles with past persecution depicting an omnipotent repressive Catholic church. 

More recently historians have emphasised the heterogenous nature of the medical church and religious toleration in intellectual thought at that time. The activities of Conrad Marburg cannot be seen as representative of the whole church. 

Nevertheless Conrad's reign of terror did happen, people were killed for alleged transgressions against the faith and this was not the only occasion. 

By substituting canon law for zealotry and arbitrariness the papacy did not institute a new regime of religious pluralism and tolerance. Unbridled religious violence was simply replaced with with a more subtle and arguably more powerful form of violence through the framework of doctrinal policing. 

Source for post: Arnold, J. H. (2009) 'Repression and Power' In Rubin, M. and Simons, W. (eds.) The Cambridge history of christianity: christianity in western Europe c.1100- c.1500, pp.355-371New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016


Daily Draw: Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, Four of Cups

Ennui - a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. Certainly I've been fully occupied today but perhaps the excitement levels are on the low side. 

I'm reminded by this that it is a long time since I have done a history post or one that connects with my doctorate. My plan - do one history post tomorrow. Readers hold me to it. 

There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.

G. K Chesterton, 1874-1936

Monday, 3 October 2016

A brief renaissance

Daily Draw: The Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, Ace of Wands

The word naissance (birth) on this card got me thinking of the renaissance and from there to my own current levels of artistic rebirthlyness. I'm planning to use Julia Cameron's work in my teaching on overcoming writers block and releasing creativity. Which made me think how long it is since I've done morning pages. 

Then I thought actually I AM doing them in this blog more regularly than ever before (even if sometimes they are more like evening pages). And I tidied my sock drawer yesterday (one of Cameron's recommendations) and had the most relaxing evening I have had in a long while. 

As I am teaching creativity I have the right to an 'artist's date' (I should walk the talk right?) and work-life harmonisation is the new buzz word. So actually it will be efficient to visit the city art gallery this week. I might not mention this to my rationalist manager tomorrow. I'm still anticipating his reaction to my exam stress mindfulness classes...

Writing is like breathing, it's possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what

Julia Cameron, 1948

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Practical matters

Daily Draw: Etteilla Tarot, Le Valet de Denier/Page of Pentacles

My first day with the Etteilla and I get the me card. Here he is as the Valet de Deniers. Historically a valet was a gentleman's servant performing such personal services as maintaining his employer's clothes, running his bath and other general grooming. 

Without this assistance I need to perform these services for myself and so I have done today. Five pairs of no need to iron work pants hanging in my wardrobe. Sorted out my sock drawer from 40 odd ones into 15 pairs. Thrown out all grey and tatty underwear - bad pants make for grumpy mornings. 

I have a lovely new pair of pyjamas which could pass for sportswear (handy when we run out of milk in the morning and I need to pop to the shop). I know a bit slummy but everyone else round here does it. All handbags emptied of trash and in their dust bags. Clothes-wise I feel pleasingly prepared for the busy weeks ahead. 

When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.

Caitlin Moran, 1975 -