Folk Magic and Folk Games: The Occult Power of Play
The history of folk magic and folk games are deeply intertwined. This is especially true in non-digital games, such as board games and card games, which are contemporaneous with the origins of folk magic and share much of its worldview. Ancient games, such as Senet and tarot, begin as entertainment and later acquire divinatory and ritual significance, while designers of modern tabletop games such as Solemn Vale and Dark Gods of Appalachia consciously weave the folk magic traditions of Cornwall and the Appalachian Mountains into their mechanics and worldbuilding.
This talk will explore the ways in which games can function as ritual and folklore, with particular attention to the category of games referred to by Caillois as “ilinx” or “vertigo games”—games designed to disorient and, potentially, to alter consciousness. Approached in this context, games can thus operate as what Andrew D. Chumbley called “the widdershins dance of the sufi”: a deliberately countercultural practice by which play serves as a vehicle for transcendence and contact with the spirit world of ideas, archetypes, and visions. In this talk, the author will discuss the ramifications of an occult approach to games on theoretical game studies and practical game design.
Ludomancer, Technomage, Occult Game Designer. Dr. Jeff Howard is Senior Lecturer in Games at Falmouth University in Cornwall, where he specializes in occult and games. He has presented on games and the occult at a variety of international conferences, including Berlin Occulture, Trans-States, and ESSWE9.
Curated & Hosted By:
Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta based writer, curator and critic. She has a PhD in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA and has written about topics as diverse as psychogeography, occult performance art, Pagan religious tourism, color theory, and extremist politics in modern Paganism. She has written widely on artist and occultist Ithell Colquhoun, notably the biography Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully (Strange Attractor 2020) and is currently editing a selection of Colquhoun’s esoteric essays for Strange Attractor (2024) and an edition of Colquhoun’s erotic art and sex magic for Tate Publishing (December, 2023). She is the editor of Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses (Palgrave 2022) and has contributed essays for Tate, Ignota Press, Burlington Contemporary, Correspondences Journal, Camden Arts Centre, Art UK, Arusha Galleries, Heavenly Records and Spike Island, Bristol. She is currently a curator and host for the internationally loved Viktor Wynd’s Last Tuesday Society lecture series and is an Honorary Research Fellow with Falmouth University in Cornwall.
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