Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | August 31, 2009

The Book of English Magic at the Edinburgh Festival, Suzi Feay and The Celestial Bed

On The High Street in Edinburgh during Festival Time 2009

On The High Street in Edinburgh during Festival Time 2009

Perhaps we are denied certain pleasures for a time so that, when we finally experience them, we can appreciate them more fully. Stephanie and I have just returned from our first experience of the Edinburgh Festival and what a treat both the festival and the city provide!  I gave a talk at the International Book Festival in Charlotte Square on The Book of English Magic alongside Owen Davies, whose  ‘Grimoires – A History of Magic Books’, complements ‘English Magic’ perfectly. Art critic and journalist Mark Fisher introduced us to the audience and Owen and I discussed our books and joined with Mark and the audience to explore their common themes.

Anyone familiar with Owen’s work on cunning folk, which is simply the best and most detailed study of the subject, will know how well he writes – combining academic precision with accessibility. His book on grimoires performs the same feat – offering an in-depth survey of a subject that is central to magical practice. If you’ve finished The Book of English Magic, ‘Grimoires’ would be a good book to follow!

Speaking of The Book of English Magic, co-authored with the indefatigable Richard Heygate, it’s been wonderful to see how well it has been received. After receiving full page reviews in The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, the first printing sold out in just six weeks, with the Times Literary Supplement calling it a ‘large, cheerful, handsome book’ and Suzi Feay, who until recently was the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, writing in The Sunday Telegraph colour supplement that the book ‘will remain the standard work for years to come’. I feel like sending her a box of chocolates!

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. What magnificent architecture! And I am sure you are familiar with the work of one of it’s finest sons, James Graham. If not, read about him in Wikipedia. Here is an excerpt:  “In June 1781 Graham launched the Temple of Hymen in new premises at Schomberg House, in Pall Mall, designed to house the newly-built Celestial Bed. His “wonder-working edifice” was twelve foot by nine foot, and canopied by a dome covered in musical automata, fresh flowers and a pair of live turtle doves. Stimulating oriental fragrances and “aethereal” gases were released from a reservoir inside the dome. A tilting inner frame put couples in the best position to conceive, and their movements set off music from organ pipes which breathed out “celestial sounds”, whose intensity increased with the ardour of the bed’s occupants. The electrified, magnetic creation was insulated by 40 cut glass pillars. At the head of the bed, above a moving clockwork tableau celebrating Hymen, the god of marriage, and sparkling with electricity, were the words: “Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth!”

We have ordered a celestial bed from a small shop in Edinburgh, and it is being delivered next Tuesday.


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