19th Century Spirit Kettles

These highly sculptural 19th century alcohol burning kettle/warmers are of Russian Imperial origin. Made of wood, bronze and copper, these two specimens feature fantastical medievalized basilisks holding a teapot over an alcohol burner. The grip and other functional points are stylized with floral motifs and grotesques. The large curly tail holds up the burner.

This specimen found at the Museum of Samovars & Bouillottes, Grumant, Russia

The Sorceress, Jan van de Velde, 1626

Quantum malorum clausa nullo limite Cogit libido, quamque dulci carmine Purissimas mortalium mentes rapit Furias in omnes, sed cito quam fallimur. Vitam brevem breve gaudium Mors occupat momentulum quod ridet, aeternum dolet. 

“How many evils does Lust command, in the small secluded margins; who with enchanting spell the pure minds of mortals does subdue, and in everyone induces rage, but quickly each is deceived. Death, seizes fleeing Life and brief joy. He laughs for a moment, and forever despairs. “

This engraving by Jan van de Velde depicts a witch as thought of during the height of witchcraft hysteria in Europe. The bare-breasted wild woman stands proudly in her Circle of Art, while demons surrounding her wait to do her bidding to summon some misfortune. All around her are the tools of her craft: the grimoire, the diviner’s cards, flasks of potions, a horn of herbs and a wand, and the goat which she undoubtedly flew in on.

The witch at her cauldron, sets upon some foul brew with the aid of her demon familiars.

Adriaen Collaert’s Four Elements

Flemish artist Adriaen Collaert (1560-1619) produced the engravings, pictured here, which depict personifications of Aristotle’s classical elements: Earth, Water, Air & Fire, printed in a wunderbuch in the collection of Jean de Poligny. Now located at the Rijksmuseum.
Prior to modern atomic theory, these elements were postulated to be the prima materia whose infinite combinations were the physical composites of all things in the Universe. Each engraving was modeled on paintings by the Flemish master de Vos the Elder. 

Air, perhaps Aeolus himself, conducts the creatures of the air in their activities. Birds, insects and the angels of the wind are at his command.
Earth, personified as wild nature in Cybele, holds the works of nature and man in her hands. Her head wizened and her breasts sagging from their labor. New life and death are seated at her feet. Creatures of the land walk over the vast hillside.
Fire! Divine Helios sits in the wheel of the Sun encircled with brilliant flames. The phoenix and the salamander (fire elementals) come to him. The world below is cast alight.
Water, as seafoam-born Venus, who is surrounded by the hidden bounty of the mighty sea. She holds the tools of human navigation in her benediction. Her throne of seashells is carried by the Moon, which in its turning controls the tides.

Sacred & Profane Signs, The Magic Powers of the Saints

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Between 1999 and 2003, an archaeological excavation of the Sainte-Catherine river produced a remarkable collection of medieval pilgrim badges. Between C. XII and C. XV, Christian pilgrims would display these inexpensive badges as charms bought at shrines to the saints.

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Some pilgrim badges would display a mundane concern to which the pilgrimage was dedicated (healing, expiation for sins committed, special blessing, travel concerns, etc.) while others were fashioned through verisimilitude to have the same protective powers as the sacred relics they represented. 

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These badges, or signs, not only represented the experiences of the pilgrimage, but also presented the wearer’s status as a pilgrim as well as what pilgrimage they were set upon. These would also function as a visual language between pilgrims who did not speak a common tongue. The wide popularity, mobility and cheap easy production has resulted in a high number of found examples. Besides their apotropaic qualities, to the medieval pilgrim, the badge also served as a visual memory of their encounter with the sacred relic–a souvenir.

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In the image above, a variety of examples from Canterbury Cathedral depict the head relic of St. Thomas à Becket. The head was removed from public veneration and the Cult of Becket was outlawed during the English Reformation.  

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Bibliography
Blick, Sarah, ‘
Comparing Pilgrim Souvenirs and Trinity Chapel Windows at Canterbury Cathedral: An Exploration of Context, Copying, and the Recovery of Lost Stained Glass’, Mirator (2001), 1-27
Lee, Jennifer, ‘Beyond the Locus Sanctus: The Independent Iconography of Pilgrims’ Souvenirs’, Visual Resources 21 (2005), 363-381
TIXADOR A. Enseignes sacrées et profanes médiévales découvertes à Valenciennes, Service archéologique de Valenciennes / Illustria-Librairie des Musées, 2004.

Faustus’ Party Playlist

In the before-times, back when gatherings happened regularly at the Haus of Faust, we had these things called parties. Parties are gatherings of friends and acquaintances that feature merriment, entertaining, and socialization. Wow, in 2020 that sounds like paradise.
Some day, things will return to new-normal, and this playlist which I have been curating for a few years will be useful again. In the mean time, kick back, relax, take a tab of acid and enjoy these videos (best paired with your own music) I’ve been collecting for your viewing pleasure.

Check this playlist from time to time for fun updates.

The Fall of the Damned, 1468

The figuration of the damned crowded in the middle of demonic creatures is common in the XV th century to represent Hell. The painter innovates by associating it with the representation of various abuses, such as those described in the Purgatory of Saint Patrick , text which relates the voyage of the knight Owein in Paradise and in Hell. He associated it with the idea of ​​the fall, made even more legible by the composition, built around a vertical line. In the lower half of the image, the damned, battered by monsters, sink into the depths of the earth. The conflagration of bodies combined perfectly reflects the terrible aspect of the scene.
The visual contrast with the very clear panel of Paradise, by the same artist, is accentuated by a radically different palette: here brown and gray tones, and to a lesser extent cold tones dominate. The artist’s masterpiece, this supernatural vision undoubtedly inspired the very suggestive works of Bosch.
Hell and Paradise are perhaps the shutters of a triptych representing the Final Judgment. They have sometimes been identified with elements of a composition produced for the town hall of Louvain in 1468.
Each detail of the work has been the subject of great attention from the painter. The anatomy of the suffering bodies, the textures of the scales of the monsters and their gleaming eyes are dramatically represented, making the horror of the scene even more palpable before our eyes.
The characters’ pain in the brazier manifests itself in their grinning attitudes and faces. The liveliness of the flames is rendered by means of a very opaque paint, as well as the eyes of the demons, which makes it possible to create striking contrasts.

Club Quarantine

Apart from becoming recently engaged, every single plan I had this year has been uprooted. I was supposed to design in another fashion show, I was supposed to travel to several wonderful places, and we were even going to plan a Halloween trip to Salem, MA this year. Alas, the world had different plans for us all. So while my travel, recreation and research is currently on hold (and while I still thankfully have my day job I can do from home), we are learning to party it up on camera with each other.
My initial hesitation to do video calls has quickly been overcome by necessity. Now I’m livestreaming every week, whether it is my live astronomy shows, group spells, or attending the fun at Club Quarantine, the isolating internet’s coolest queer hangout. Incidentally you can see us performing for the people there this coming Saturday night, around 11/12 EST.

The Tooth Worm as Hell’s Demon

According to medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, tooth worms were a legitimate concern in dental medicine as far back as 5,000 BCE, where they were first mentioned in a Sumerian medical text. By the 8th century CE, the idea of worms causing tooth decay had reached Europe. As they describe it:

Treatment of tooth worms varied depending on the severity of the patient’s pain. Often, practitioners would try to ‘smoke’ the worm out by heating a mixture of beeswax and henbane seed on a piece of iron and directing the fumes into the cavity with a funnel. Afterwards, the hole was filled with powered henbane seed and gum mastic.  This may have provided temporary relief given the fact that henbane is a mild narcotic. Many times, though, the achy tooth had to be removed altogether. Some tooth-pullers mistook nerves for tooth worms, and extracted both the tooth and the nerve in what was certainly an extremely painful procedure in a period before anaesthetics. – Fitzharris

In this unattributed 18th century ivory carving which stands at 4″ tall, demons can be seen wrestling with the tooth worm amid swirling hellfire, next to figures beating and clubbing the souls of the damned in eternal pain. Anyone who has ever suffered an extended toothache can sympathize with the hellish torment depicted here.
Many medical spells for toothache can be found throughout history. One spell found in the Cambridge Book of Magic (1530’s), the cunning man is instructed to “write on bread or in an apple or in cheese: ‘Loy: Gloy: and Zedoloy’, and say an Our Father, Hail Mary and Creed.” In Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (1900), there is listed a folk spell from Scotland where toothache sufferers would drink water from a magic well called Cuidh-airidh. A number of spells from Germany involved magically transferring the toothache somewhere else, especially with a coffin nail. The sufferer would ask a grave-differ for a coffin nail, poke it into his gums, then drive the nail into the ground a crossroads, or into a door, taking the toothache with it.
One time I myself had a terrible wisdom toothache (and no dental insurance!), so I ate a  single psilocybin mushroom, and then earnestly begged the spirit of the mushroom to heal me of the pain. For what it’s worth, the pain did go away until I had to have my wisdom teeth finally pulled. Experience has shown me that magic is never a proper substitute for good medicine.