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.

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.

Papal Magic During Pestilence

This may be the last place you’d expect to find content like this, I’m sure. At the time of this writing, the world is currently stuck in the clutches of the awful Covid19 pandemic. Naturally my our energies are spent on more important things than writing on a niche website. But this particular bit of papal magic was not only extremely interesting, but also quite moving. More importantly, it is living history unfolding before our eyes.
Last week was the Pope’s semi-annual Urbi et Orbi declaration, where he traditionally pontificates on the state of the Church and the world, took place in an emptied St. Peter’s square. After his address, the small number of clergy present performed the rites of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. Here, the pope took the ostensorium in his hands, and blessed the whole city of Rome, and perhaps the whole world, with the sacred host. As he did so, the basilica and the surrounding churches began to PEEL with thunderous resounding, while the sirens of the gendarmeria blared in salute. As soon as the pope had finished, the bells stopped and silence again fell over the empty square. It was like watching something from the end of the world.
Also present was a miraculous crucifix which was reported to cure the City during a plague in 1522. The pope reverenced this relic as it was also exposed to the open square, obviously in the hopes that the pandemic will soon end. We shall see what efficacious qualities this rite may bare.

Watch this moment of magic below:

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. 

Leonardo & The Hermit

Alec Falle Hamilton recently shared this drawing which was inspired by the spirit(s) of the magic mushroom. “I asked the mushrooms how I could honor their spirit with a single drawing. Their answer came back immediately… ‘It’s all One line’. Here’s Leonardo Da Vinci and the Hermit, drawn without lifting my pen from the paper, made up entirely of mushrooms.”

credit: Alec Falle Hamilton, used with permission


This resonates so deeply with my own mushroom experiences, which often hurtle me back and forth between the past and future, with icons like Leonardo and other Renaissance figures giving my inspiration through their work. Leonardo has always represented to me the greatest mind humanity has ever offered: one whose inquisitive nature lead him to define new art forms, mechanisms and ideas that were centuries ahead of his time.
The Hermit is of equal importance in his quest for interior silence. Becoming a spiritually minded person often means separating oneself from society in order to deepen the relationship of the individual with nature and his own self.
These are all values upheld by the mushroom spirit.

See more of Hamilton’s art at their website and Instagram

Romanian Witches Casting Spells on Politicians

Through all of history, witchcraft has been (and still remains) one of the means by which women, the poor, outsiders and all who were otherwise disenfranchised have empowered themselves against systems of control and corruption. See this new report by VICE on the Romanian witches who are cursing European politicians. I don’t know anything about Romanian magic, but the themes they are talking about resonate with those of the magical resistance in these U.S.A.

Yes I watch and read VICE! They are returning to their original standards of actual journalism (sometimes). 

Matthew Hopkins & the Essex Witch Craze

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!

John Dee & Edward Kelley employing a magic circle to invoke a spirit. The Astrologer of the 19th Century, 1825

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.

Woodcut of witches flying. Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, 1689

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.

Elizabeth I, after the Darnley pattern, c. 1585

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[1] and Macfarlane[2] 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.

James I & VI of England & Scotland, after John de Critz, 1606

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.

Woodcut of Matthew Hopkins from his book, The Discovery of Witches…, 1647

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[3]. 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.

Ducking stool. 18th century drawing reproduced in Chap-books of the 18th Century by John Ashton, 1834

[1] Thomas, K. (1971). Religion and the decline of magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth-century England.
[2] Macfarlane, A. (1970). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study.
[3] 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.

Comet Observations – The Augsburger Book of Miracles, 1552

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.

“In 1401 A.D., a big comet with a tail… appeared in the sky in Germany. That was followed by a great, terrible plague in Swabia.”

The great comet of 1456 was actually excommunicated by Pope Callixtus III. Today we know this as Halley’s Comet. I’m not entirely sure what the smaller object is but it cannot be a comet since comet tails always face away from the sun. This must be a shooting star.

“In 1007 a wondrous comet appeared. It gave off fire and flames in every direction. It was seen in Germany and Welschland and it fell onto the earth.” This was then not a true comet but an impressive meteor.

“In 1546, in the month of August, the fire from the sky struck a tower in which were more than four hundred tons of powder, in Mechel in Niederland. And exactly half of the city burned down, which is also a special sign from God.”

The comet of 1300/1, most likely Halley’s comet again.

 

Ghost – Kiss the Go-Goat

Fellow fans of Ghost will no doubt be glad when they wake up to a new Chapter of Ghost’s teaser series on YouTube. This series has been going slow and steady for a year and half already! Two new singles will be released tomorrow, Friday the 13th. This is the perfect thing to tide us over until The Director returns to the recording studio early next year. It is likely the next album has already been written out, and will probably be released next summer!
In Chapter 8, Papa Nihil reminisces about his own musical career back in the heydey of the 60’s, and a perhaps ill-fated performance of his hit song “Kiss the Go-Goat”. Take special note of a very pregnant Sister Imperator. While we obviously know who the father is, who will this child become?

Roman Gods, Livre des échecs amoureux moralisés (1496)

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.

Pluto and Proserpina among the Kingdom of Hades


Vulcan and Venus, her children


Pan


Jupiter


Saturn eating his young