Monday, March 28, 2016

Dante the Shaman

From a new biography:
…Dante’s fame as a necromancer is also in a certain sense documented.

Such notoriety shouldn’t be surprising. For one thing, he had a reputation as an expert in astrology, and we know that this discipline could easily spill over into magical and necromantic practices. And then, above all, he was famous after the publication of Inferno for having descended live into the realms of the afterlife and for having encountered devils there, the souls of the damned, and having spoken to them. It must have been a rumor widely spread and also disturbing. It seems, according to Boccaccio, that the women who used to pass him in the street would say to each other: Look, “he who goes into Hell, and returns whenever he likes, and brings back news of those who are down there…” 
Via Marginal Revolution. In modern language, of course, visiting hell and returning to talk about it is not necromancy but shamanism. In the Renaissance the vocabulary for all of these things was not precise, and any sort of magic could be called sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, and other things, some of the words taken from Latin and others specific to the local language.

But note the all-to-human reluctance to distinguish between truth and fiction, which still comes up all the time. For example, in folklore about various scenes in movies being “real,” or the belief that people who write powerfully about something (war, love, madness) must have experienced it. A large swathe of humanity seems determined to underrate the power of imagination.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

A large swathe of humanity seems determined to underrate the power of imagination.

This is perhaps absurdly cynical of me, but I sometimes feel that a large swathe of humanity seems to lack imagination altogether.