Algernon Blackwood The Centaur (1911), which I went back to and started over from the beginning after having attempted it two years previously. Probably one of the most complex literary evocations of pantheistic mysticism and what is now known as the Gaia hypothesis to be found in classic literature... it has long didactic passages that would put off many readers, but was so fascinating I bought an old 1930s Penguin paperback edition (having read an electronic edition of the book) so I could have it to hand on my shelf.
Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter (1981) Dunnett spent five years researching every conceivable facet of the historical ruler Macbeth (died around 1053 CE). The result was this behemoth of a novel. I mostly read on my commute and lunch breaks so, as is often the case these days, I read this in electronic format--the book must be doorstop sized (runs to around 750, or is it 850, printed pages) It also took me a while to get going with this book, but once I did so, it was utterly absorbing. There are no Witches but the Three Norns (or Fates) are hinted at being at work here and there in the story--and there's a surprising moment where a battle is described from the point of view of Heimdall, the Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard, sometimes mentioned in the Sagas as a god who takes a special interest in the doings of humans.
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child (2011) which I read sometime after having completed Hollinghurst's most recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair. Stranger's Child has a number of themes, one of them being the uncanny horror wreaked upon human existence by that most inexorable of forces, time and eroding memory. One device the author uses which he explored even further in his more recent novel is a kind of interrupted narrative which requires the reader to do a lot of spadework between the lines to try and figure out just what's going on.
A TV series I viewed this year which I enjoyed a lot was The Omega Factor, shot for BBC Scotland in 1979. I'd seen it about 12 or 14 years previously but felt I "got" more of what was going on in the story this time around.
In terms of music, Georgian (as in former USSR) pianist Nino Gvetadze issued a beautifully recorded album of piano works by Cyril Scott, "Visions." And I listened a lot to this playlist, from a concert at which Einar Selvik, Ivar Bjornson, and Eivor Palsdottir collaborated, in 2018:
NON-FICTION: Thomas Waters - Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft & Black Magic in Modern Times.
I'm interested in this one, Doc, but the TOC seems disconcerting: there's a chapter entitled "Witchcraft's decline: 1900-60s". In decline? How could it have been? Isn't that supposed to be the golden age? Would appreciate if you can give us the lowdown of the book!
What Waters says in that chapter is that belief in witchcraft had a "relative decline" in Britain in the period from the 1900s to the 1960s - that is, relative to the years immediately before and after. The book is very much written from a social (or cultural) history perspective, and one of the main sources of data he draws on is newspaper reports (as well as things like folklore reports, memoirs, autobiographies, etc.) that make reference to contemporary witchcraft beliefs - and these seem to have declined significantly (though never completely disappearing) at this time. He suggests various social factors being involved in this - e.g. legislation like the National Insurance Act (1911) and National Health Service Act (1946) meant people were much less likely to rely on local "cunning folk" for help with medical problems, and so the belief that illnesses might be caused by "the evil eye" gradually faded into obscurity. He also points to other gradual shifts in society at this time - like the decline of oral story-telling traditions, as well as a decline in belief in religion and "the supernatural" generally.
Waters acknowledges that people may be surprised that he pinpoints this as a time of decline in these beliefs - most would either go for an earlier or later time period - but I found his argument quite persuasive. He does, though, discuss several examples of "survivals" of witchcraft beliefs in this period (especially in more remote rural areas like the West Country in England and the Western Isles in Scotland), as well as the revisionist views that were being put forward by the likes of Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner - but these were very much minority-interest fringe groups at that time, barely registering their existence at all within the wider society. For Waters, the great resurgence of belief in witchcraft and black magic really started in the early 1970s - and has arguably been increasing ever since (he cites polls suggesting about 1 in 10 Brits said they believed in black magic in the 1970s, but this had increased to about 1 in 8 in the early 2000s).
I'd very much recommend the book - it is "proper" history, meticulously researched, with arguments backed up with actual data, but it is also entertaining, and not at all "academic" or "dry". I've read quite a lot of this sort of stuff over the years, some of it "respectable" historical research, most of it probably not, but there was lots of material in this that I had never come across before - especially the reports from obscure local newspapers of supposed "witches" being physically attacked (sometimes fatally) on a fairly regular basis in the UK well into the 20th Century.
[...] but there was lots of material in this that I had never come across before - especially the reports from obscure local newspapers of supposed "witches" being physically attacked (sometimes fatally) on a fairly regular basis in the UK well into the 20th Century.
That settles it. Straight onto the "To Read in 2021 If I Survive the Plague List".
It's also probably worth saying that the book is very much focused on belief in harmful magic, i.e. maleficium, curses, the evil eye, etc., so there generally isn't much discussion about Wicca and the likes.