Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Chicago Library Seeks Magical Transcriptionists

According to an article from Smithsonian posted on Monday, a library in Chicago is seeking help transcribing three magical manuscripts. The first one in particular, the 17th century Book of Magical Charms, sounds the most interesting. It is described as including not only spells and rituals but various prayers and devotional liturgies associated with them. Depending on the quality of the work, that could be a real treasure trove of magical lore.

The Newberry Library in Chicago is home to some 80,000 documents pertaining to religion during the early modern period, a time of sweeping social, political, and cultural change spanning the late Middle Ages to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Among the library’s collection of rare Bibles and Christian devotional texts are a series of manuscripts that would have scandalized the religious establishment. These texts deal with magic—from casting charms to conjuring spirits—and the Newberry is asking for help translating and transcribing them.

As Tatiana Walk-Morris reports for Atlas Obscura, digital scans of three magical manuscripts are accessible through Transcribing Faith, an online portal that functions much like Wikipedia. Anyone with a working knowledge of Latin or English is invited to peruse the documents and contribute translations, transcriptions, and corrections to other users’ work. “You don't need a Ph.D to transcribe,” Christopher Fletcher, coordinator of the project and a fellow of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, tells “[The initiative] is a great way to allow the general public to engage with these materials in a way that they probably wouldn't have otherwise.”

The three manuscripts now available online reflect the varied and complex ways that magic fit into the broader religious landscape of a shifting and modernizing West. The 17th-century Book of Magical Charms contains instructions on a range of magical practices—“from speaking with spirits to cheating at dice,” according to the Transcribing Faith website—but also includes Latin prayers and litanies that align with mainstream religious practices. An untitled document known as the “commonplace book” explores strange and fantastical occurrences, along with religious and moral questions. Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits by Increase Mather, a Puritan minister and president of Harvard who presided over the Salem Witch Trials, expresses a righteous condemnation of witchcraft.

For those of you wondering why I don't do it myself, I know magick but I can't do transcription. That requires things like the motor skills to type quickly while looking at something other than my keyboard - which I just don't have, despite typing on these computer things since the age of 8. So that 10,000 hours thing? It totally doesn't work unless you have talent to begin with.

Anyway, for those of you interested in checking out the manuscripts and possibly lending a hand, they can be found here at the Transcribing Faith online portal. It sounds like they might very well contain some good material that an enterprising magician could put to some use.

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