It looks like the Catholic Church has pissed off one too many women in Mexico, where on March 9th, the local march for International Women’s Day reached an apparent frenzy of righteous feminine anger. Several masked protesters launched an attack against the exterior of the Cathedral of Hermosillo, covering it in ♀ symbols and other graffiti. They were unable to destroy the inside however, since the congregants inside barricaded the doors with heavy pews.
I think it’s just great that people are finally acting out after 2,000 years of Christian oppression. It makes me wonder what the French Revolution may have looked and sounded like. We are living in such interesting times! I’d love to see these kind of riots go down on say, Capitol Hill, the White House, or even the Vatican. Let’s tear down the old structures of power already, they are killing the planet.
Good job, ladies. And better luck next time, I say.
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.
It is difficult to speak of ancient Egypt in concrete terms because of the great length of Egyptian history and culture, which spanned a period of almost 3,800 years and over 30 dynasties. As such it can’t be treated monolithically. Still we can recognize certain themes which repeat themselves over the ages, especially in magic and religion which are slower to change. In ancient Egypt, magic and religion were both part of a broader holistic worldview which also included medicine, astronomy, law, politics and beyond. It is hard to even use the word magic in the context of Egypt, since our word magic comes from the Greek μαγεία, which carries a connotation of trickery, malice or charlatanism. In Egyptian thought, there was no such thing as evil magic. To them, magic itself was deified in the person of Heka. Heka was often depicted in cooperation with the Sun and other gods of creation, and was the power they possessed. So, magic was an integral part of their religion. Because their magic, Heka, was a god, there is no place in Egyptian life where magic was illegal, except if used against the pharaoh (which to them would be blasphemy).
Magical activity was present in almost every facet of Egyptian life. Scholars usually identify three aspects of magical practice: apotropaic, curative and transformative magic. Magic was conducted by all manner of people: priests, physicians, local wise men and the pharaoh were all magicians. It was this group of practitioners who were able to summon gods and the liminal beings we would now refer to as demons. Spells for protection can be found on numerous objects, amulets, papyri, coffins, jars, books, murals and figurines for example. Curative magic was used for healing, and spells are often found on statues meant to heal the sick. Medico-magical texts were used in earnest by physicians. Transformative magic, equally popular around the rest of the Mediterranean, was used in the form of not only love and binding spells, but for Egyptians in the Books of the Dead where the deceased would use magic to transform themselves into a god, a plant, a bird or a perfected spirit.
Magical characters, tools or spells can often be identified by their common elements, especially by the presence of the serpent. Could this have also shown how Egyptian magic was understood by other cultures such as the magical battle between Aaron the the court magicians (Ex. 7:9-12)? Gods, magicians, priests and demons could be seen with serpent wands and other attributes if they were performing spells.
How were gods and demons distinguished? They were often represented in similar forms. Gods appeared in myths of creation whereas demons did not. Gods took care of mortals both living and deceased. Demons could communicate with humans but mainly they just needed to be appeased. Gods were also distinguished by their worship in cults, and so they had a more fixed iconography.
There is an issue of translation of modern to ancient concepts and terms. The modern idea of demons is formed by the Judeo-Christian sense of an evil spirit sent to punish sinners, or as symbols of temptation. The ancient Greek δαίμων served as an intermediary between gods and mortals.
“For the divine does not mix with the mortal, and it is only through the mediation of the daimones that mortals can have any interaction with the gods, either while awake or asleep.” -Symposium, 202d, 13-203a
This fits well with the Egyptian idea of demons as liminal figures who communicate between the world of the main gods and humans. While the Greeks distinguished between good and bad demons, the Egyptians mainly did not. These spirits were guardians and servants of greater gods. They were often depicted in mortuary settings such as tombs and sarcaphogi, because they were known to guard specific regions or gates of the netherworld. From the 1st century BCE, coffins were often used similarly to papyrus by being covered in written spells. The Egyptians wanted these spells as close to the body as possible. They could only be dangerous to the one who did not have the specific knowledge needed to approach them. This knowledge was contained in spells written in papyri and coffins, which listed their names and told which gates they guarded. Their names often illustrated their appearance or function, such as “The Hearer”, “Sad of Voice”, “One Who Stretches Out His Brow”, “One With Vigilant Face”.
Demons could be conjured to protect from other demons, although malicious demons are never depicted in Egyptian art. Wandering spirits, bringers of disease, and godly messengers all fell under this category of demon. One XIX Dynasty headrest depicts demons with the head of a crocodile or vulture, spitting out serpents, holding snakes and daggers, which was meant to ward off evil spirits. These more malicious beings were controlled by the main gods. Demonizing an illness may have psychologically helped patients cope with their suffering, which is why we have so many spells where medical prescriptions are also included. Egyptian doctors used magical spells together with medical knowledge to great effect.
Article based on notes from public lecture given by Professor Rita Lucarelli to the Harvard Semitic Museum, Feb 21 2019.
While the Inquisition had been prosecuting and executing witches for centuries, the witch craze never really took off in England until the reign of James I. If anything, magic had an everyday place in English lives during the Tudor dynasty. This is not to say that witchcraft (then differentiated from magic) was free from scrutiny. But from the court-sanctioned experimentations of Dr. John Dee and other Christological magicians, the coastal witches who warded off the Spanish Armada with the help of Sir Francis Drake, to the rustic cures and spells offered by the cunning men and women, as well as the fantasy magical elements featured in popular culture such as Marlowe’s Faustus or Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest—magic was everywhere!
During the height of witch persecution on the Continent, there were no large-scale witch trials in England for a number of reasons. The ecclesial separation from other areas of Christian Europe meant that the English church had its own priorities, e.g. the persecution and removal of the treacherous papists! There was also a lack of any desire from authorities to conduct a witch hunt in the first place. The final decline of witch trials came at the latter half of the 17th century as a result of the rise of new scientific thought and the works of natural philosophers like Isaac Newton who were now able to explain the universe in mechanical ways, causing a decline in the belief in the possibility of magic to influence the world. In English witchcraft trials, it is odd to see any reference to making a pact with the Devil. There are no witches’ sabbats, no sex with devils, nor did English witches fly. They did however have imps and familiars. Ursula Kemp was alleged to have four familiars: two cats, a toad called Piggen, and a lamb named Tiffin. Witches were usually only condemned for maleficium. These trials were rarely issued from above. English court records feature a lot of individual prosecutions from below by the alleged victims of witchcraft seeking redress in the courts. Trials against witchcraft were generally few and far between, except in the counties surrounding London.
Cases of witchcraft were coming predominantly from Essex. During the reign of Elizabeth I, for example, Hertfordshire only produced 24 cases, Sussex only 14, yet Essex produced 172 cases! Between 1560 and 1580, 270 individuals were prosecuted for witchcraft in Essex alone. Most of these trials took place in the last quarter of the 16th century, and became very rare everywhere after 1620. This decline can be explained by the fact that by the 1580’s judges were becoming very worried about the difficulties of proving witchcraft. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they were skeptical—many likely still believed that witchcraft was possible. But how could you prove witchcraft unless they confessed? In English law, torture was not used except in state trials when authorized by the Privy Council. It was routinely used in Scotland and the Continent. How could prosecutors root out natural causes of these alleged injuries? And if it were actually witchcraft, who did it? In cases of witchcraft, the normal rules of evidence could not apply.
With an increasing level of methodical jurisprudence, why they was there also a rise in the concerns against witchcraft in the 17th century? The dominant explanations offered by Thomas and Macfarlane show that witches were frequently elderly women who were accused of bewitching neighbors, not strangers, and who were often poorer than their victims. This suggests that accusations were rising as a result of tensions between poorer women and their competitive neighbors. While it is possible that some of those accused did practice magic and believe they had the power to harm, or that they responded to these accusations by playing the part of the witch given to them by reputation, there must have been some incident serious enough to start an honest investigation into witchcraft. In Essex, there was an average of four witnesses per accused witch. Witchcraft accusations could arise as a result of personal rivalries in local politics, used to discredit others and so on.
Thomas suggests that this peak period of witchcraft anxiety came with the rising concern in the loss of belief in the power of ecclesial protection and counter-magic, and secondly because that period was one of unusual tensions within village societies. Economic distress caused a declining position for the poor and widows. Poor Laws had not yet been put into effect for this population. The decline in charity among neighbors meant that accusing one of witchcraft could become a means to severing responsibility for the poor, and transferring this guilt to an accused witch.
Why were the Witchcraft Acts passed in the first place, and why did so many cases arise in Essex? Why were other counties similar to Essex not so affected? It’s worth considering that these laws were passed when they were for two reasons. Both were passed at the beginning of two monarchical regimes (Elizabeth I, then James I). This suggests that elements of symbolism or propaganda were being set up to confirm the legitimacy and uprightness of the monarch, who would be seen opposing certain subversive (yet harmless) acts. Another element was the perceived threats against the monarch. In 1561, two years before the 1563 act passed, a plot was discovered where sorcery was being used against Elizabeth. William Cecil discovered then that there were no acts preventing these crimes. The 1604 Act followed the succession of James I to the throne. He was a man with profound interest in witchcraft, having written his treatise Daemonologie after a group of witches were uncovered attempting to kill him in a shipwreck. The witchcraft acts of England and Scotland were then overhauled and combined.
As a result of these acts, the political and ecclesiastical elite had a bigger role in managing cases of witchcraft. It is possible then that Essex was peculiarly conscious of threats of witchcraft. The use of criminal law against witches had terrible publicity there. Three group trials took place in 1566, 1582 and 1589. In each case, an initial accusation was vigorously pursued by justices who had a particular concern against witchcraft. These trials were then publicized in pamphlets, which may have had the effect of heightening the sense of threat people felt, or even a moral panic. This paved the way then in 1644 for Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General.
Between 1644 and 1647, Matthew Hopkins traveled throughout East Anglia and hired himself out as a consultant for the discovery of witches. He came to have gained his experience by accidentally encountering a meeting of witches in Manningtree, Essex. The witches met and offered sacrifices to the Devil, and gave commands to their familiars to do harm. English prosecutions until then had been sporadic, except in Anglia where they then came in great waves. With the Witchcraft Acts of Elizabeth and James now making witchcraft a felony, Hopkins was free to pursue witches as state criminals and so use extreme acts to gain his confessions. Though torture was still illegal, one method he employed was in keeping the accused witch awake for days at a time until they would confess. Another means of torture which he employed was the infamous trial by dunking in water. The aim of Hopkins was not to prove a witch guilty of committing maleficium, rather of having consorted with Satan, and thus being a heretic. During this time, Hopkins is suspected of executing 300 alleged witches, or 60% of all cases in a period of 300 years of English history. His 1647 account of witch-finding, The Discovery of Witches would later influence the witch craze in New England, including the madness that was the Salem witch hysteria of 1692-1693.
 Thomas, K. (1971). Religion and the decline of magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth-century England.  Macfarlane, A. (1970). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study.  Hopkins, M. (1647). The discovery of witches: in answer to severall queries, lately delivered to the judges of assize for the county of Norfolk. And now published by Matthew Hopkins Witch-finder, for the benefit of the whole kingdome.
The Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch (1552 ?) was a compendium of famous meteorological and astronomical phenomena as well as selected illustrations from the Bible. The more interesting part here is that the writer associates the various comet appearances with specific disasters (disaster literally meaning an ill-starred event) in world history. In this work, the author does not make the distinction between comets and meteors which we do today. The segment on miraculous signs appears between the Old and New Testament portions and depicts several freak weather incidents and celestial apparitions from antiquity up to the year 1552.
Le Livre des échecs amoureux moralisés. Commissioned by Louise of Savoy. Transferred between 1515-1518 to the royal library of Blois. “The games of Love”, masterfully composed and filled with moral stories against foolish love, whose end (the book claims) is to show the error and deception that is fatuous love and its innumerable dangers.
Currently located at La Bibliothèque nationale de France. See it in full detail here.
This is a really interesting archaeological find, and right after I posted my own magical treasure trove. Recently in Pompeii, where excavations have been occurring in one form or another for the past three centuries, there was discovered a casket full of daily-use implements which also included a number of magical artifacts.
Amulets, gems and small objects re-emerge from the excavation of the Regio V. They were related to the female world, used for personal ornamentation or to protect from bad luck. They were found in one of the rooms of the House of the Garden.
Placed in a wooden box, it has been restored and has been brought to its former glory by the restorers of the Laboratory of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. They were probably objects that the inhabitants of the house could not take away before they escaped.
The wood of the box has decomposed and only the bronze hinges remain, well preserved under the volcanic material.
Among the numerous objects found, two mirrors, pieces of necklace, decorative elements made of faïence, bronze, bone and amber, a glass unguentary, phallic amulets, a human figure and various gems (including an amethyst with a female figure and a carnelian with a craftsman figure). In a glass paste is engraved the head of Dionysus, on another a dancing satyr.
The high quality of the amber and glass pastes and the engraving of the figures confirm the importance of the domus owner.
Soon the jewels will be exhibited, with other Pompeian jewels, at the Palestra Grande, in an exhibition that will be a follow-up of “Vanity”, the exhibition dedicated to jewels from the Cyclades and Pompeii, as well as from other sites in Campania. The full article is at Pompeii Sites
This is a very illuminating “snapshot” of the life of one ancient Roman household on the day of October 24, 79 CE. Perhaps the casket was filled in the chaos of the disaster while the owner attempted in vain to take some of her belongings with her to escape, only to suffer the fate of Vesuvius. Just imagine what archaeological evidence you and I will leave behind for some future archaeologist to discover, 2000 years into the future.