(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘spiritualism

“Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal”*…


During the period we now call the fin-de-siècle, worlds collided. Ideas were being killed off as much as being born. And in a sort of Hegelian logic of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, the most interesting ones arose as the offspring of wildly different parents. In particular, the last gasp of Victorian spirituality infused cutting-edge science with a certain sense of old-school mysticism. Theosophy was all the rage; Huysmans dragged Satan into modern Paris; and eccentric poets and scholars met in the British Museum Reading Room under the aegis of the Golden Dawn for a cup of tea and a spot of demonology. As a result of all this, certain commonly-accepted scientific terms we use today came out of quite weird and wonderful ideas being developed at the turn of the century. Such is the case with space, which fascinated mathematicians, philosophers, and artists with its unfathomable possibilities…

Further to yesterday’s nod to topography, and on the occasion of Halloween: hyperspace, ghosts, and colorful cubes – the work of Charles Howard Hinton and the cultural history of higher dimensions– “Notes on the Fourth Dimension.”

* H. P. Lovecraft, The Tomb


As we get down with the dead, we might recall that it was on this date in 1756 that Giacomo Casanova, who had been incarcerated in Venice as a blasphemer, cabalist, seducer, and ruffian, escaped from prison.  He made his way to Paris where, as “Jacques Casanova, the Chevalier de Seingalt,” he wrote his autobiography, launched the lottery, and made a killing.

Illustration in Casanova’s Histoire de ma fuite des prisons de la République de Venise qu’on appelle Les Plombs (Story of my Flight), 1787. From the German edition, 1788.


Casanova circa 1750-1755 (just before the escape)



Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 31, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The score never interested me, only the game”*…


In 1913, when he was 20, Clayton Hudson wrote Harry Houdini, daring him to escape from a special crate that Hudson had designed.  Houdini warmed to Hudson, choosing his challenge from the myriad he received, and with £100 at stake, found a way out.  26 years later, Hudson put his expensive lesson to work– using Monopoly sets to help World War II prisoners of war escape…

At around the time that Monopoly was starting to make a name for itself – and to achieve the kind of fame that would make it such a central part of prison life in Stalag XXB – Clayton Hutton was beginning to worry about the fate of Europe. As the 1930s drew to a close, a war was clearly looming, and he wanted to get involved.

Despite service as a pilot during the First World War, Clayton Hutton was not a career military man. Instead, he had left the service to work in journalism here and there and as a publicity director for the movie business. He had also become increasingly eccentric – a fact that, along with his age, may explain why he was swiftly turned down when in 1939 he applied to join the Royal Air Force.

Luckily, British military intelligence was currently looking for “a showman with an interest in escapology” – the kind of man, perhaps, who had once been publicly humiliated by the greatest magician that ever lived.

These were busy times for the intelligence services. MI9 had been newly formed under Brigadier Norman Crockatt; its objective was to facilitate the escape of any allied soldiers captured by the enemy during the coming war, and return them safely to the UK. This sort of thing required some pretty unusual thinking – and some pretty unusual thinkers. Following a short interview with Crockatt – in which the story of the Houdini challenge played a crucial role – Clayton Hutton was employed by MI9 as a technical officer…

Read the whole extraordinary story– and see photos of Hudson’s handiwork– at “Inside Monopoly’s secret war against the Third Reich.”


* Mae West


As we bake a hacksaw into a cake, we might recall that it was on this date in 1944 that Helen Duncan became the last person to be charged under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.  In the event, her real offense was a form of espionage, a violation of the Official Secrets Act: she’d held public seances purportedly with victims of the torpedoed of HMS Barham, the loss of which was classified.  (It was demonstrated at her trial that she’d had the opportunity to learn of the ship’s loss from crew members’ families.)  Rather than amplify the leak, the authorities prosecuted her under the Witchcraft statute, which made falsely claiming to procure spirits a crime.  She served nine months in prison, and was barred from further “practice”…  though she was caught in the act and arrested again in 1956 (this time under the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which replaced the Witchcraft Act).



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

Black and WTF…

Swimming Lessons

circa 1910

seen at the 1939 World’s Fair

Many, many more arresting images at Black and WTF.


As we slip into sepia, we might send ethereal birthday greetings to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; he was born on this date in 1859.  While the Scottish physician and author is, of course, renown as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was also a prominent spiritualist, who devoted years of his life (and over 1 million pounds) to supporting belief in the existence of “little people,” or Fairies.

Conan Doyle was deeply moved by the “Cottingley Fairies Photographs,” a series of five pictures taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England– indeed, he used them to illustrate a 1920 article in The Strand.  (In the early 1980s, Elsie and Frances finally admitted that the photographs were faked [using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time], though Frances continued to claim that the fifth and final photograph was genuine.)

The first of the five photographs, taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, shows Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies.

Your correspondent is off to visit the fairies, and thus out of radio contact for a few days.  Regular service should resume by the beginning of next week…  meantime, readers might amuse themselves, even as they improve themselves, with this informative interview and  this helpful how-to.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 22, 2012 at 1:01 am

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it…


Anyone might agree that there’s something almost saintly about Raj Patel.  The son of Indian immigrants to Britain, he followed degrees at Oxford and LSE with work at the World Bank and Food First.  Committed to analyzing and addressing the inequities the arise from unmitigated free markets, he has written Stuffed and Starved (“dazzling”- Naomi Klein) and most recently The Value of Nothing.

But there are some who believe that Patel is more than just saintly– he is the messiah.  As the Guardian reports,

The trouble started when Raj Patel appeared on American TV to plug his latest book, an analysis of the financial crisis called The Value of Nothing.

The London-born author, 37, thought his slot on comedy talkshow The Colbert Report went well enough: the host made a few jokes, Patel talked a little about his work and then, job done, he went back to his home in San Francisco.

Shortly afterwards, however, things took a strange turn. Over the course of a couple of days, cryptic messages started filling his inbox.

“I started getting emails saying ‘have you heard of Benjamin Creme?’ and ‘are you the world teacher?'” he said. “Then all of a sudden it wasn’t just random internet folk, but also friends saying, ‘Have you seen this?'”

Benjamin Creme, a philosophical descendant of Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists, and the founder of Share International, prophesied  the coming of Maitreya, the Christ or “the world teacher”… Patel’s life story matches many of the details that Creme foretold– a flight from India to the UK as a child, growing up in London, a slight stutter, appearances on TV– and so hundreds of Creme’s followers around the world have come to accept Patel as the embodiment of Maitreya.

It’s an interesting prospect:  Creme has described Maitreya, an 18 million-year-old savior, as a representative of a group of beings from Venus called the Space Brothers.  Still, Patel is not amused:

People are very ready to abdicate responsibility and have it shovelled on to someone else’s shoulders.  You saw that with Obama most spectacularly, but whenever there’s going to be someone who’s just going to fix it for you, it’s a very attractive story. It’s in every mythological structure.

What I’m arguing in the book is precisely the opposite of the Maitreya: what we need is various kinds of rebellion and transformations about how private property works.

I don’t think a messiah figure is going to be a terribly good launching point for the kinds of politics I’m talking about – for someone who has very strong anarchist sympathies, this has some fairly deep contradictions in it.

But Patel is caught in a Life of Brian-like bind:  it turns out that Creme prophesied his denial, as well.

As we  ask empathetically “Why me?,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1042 that Edward the Confessor was crowned King of England.  Edward was the last of the House of Wessex (for all practical purposes; his great nephew Edgar Ætheling inherited– but lasted less than six weeks), and marked the transition to Norman rule.

Edward’s secular legacy is the pomp of royal ceremony– he originated coronation regalia and the royal seal.  But as his name suggests, his sacred legacy is more substantial:  Edward was canonized in 1161, and is the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses.  He was also the patron saint of England from the reign of Henry II until 1348, when he was replaced by Saint George (though he remained the patron saint of the Royal Family).

Edward the Confessor