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Spellbound: The Astrological Imagination of Washington Irving
Washington Irving's interest in the preternatural is well known from his gothic tales of colonial New York, notably The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The lesser known Legend of the Arabian Astrologer tells the story of an encounter between a ninth-century Moorish King and his mysterious astrologer, conflating astrology and magic. Written during the early nineteenth-century revival of astrology in England, Irving characterizes the astrologer as magician, a notion which took on increased importance later in that century with the French occult revival of the 1850s and the 'Theosophical Enlightenment' of Madame Blavatsky. His tale is placed in the context of his literary career and astrology's cultural status at the time. Irving's limited knowledge of judicial astrology and its history led him to focus on its expression as a form of Egyptian magic. Irving paints a fairly accurate picture of the use of astral magic, including talismans, a major expression of the Arabic transmission of astrology to the medieval West. As such, his tale provides a vital link to the revival of magic and astrology in the nineteenth century as practiced by the Order of the Golden Dawn and mages like Aleister Crowley. This is the hard end of the Talismanic Magic and Astrology link that Irving pre-echoes in his story.