Lloyd de Beer, curator at The British Museum, explains the origin of the Canterbury pilgrim badges and how they relate to the swift rise of the cult of Thomas à Becket, whose followers drank the blood of the martyr for miracle cures.
490-500 BCE: This Attic red-figure psykter (wine cooling vessel) from the necropolis of Cerveteri depicts bearded satyrs in revelry. A satyr falls backwards and balances a cantharos (drinking cup) upon his erect penis. Other satyrs around him pour wine into the cantharos. Other figure groups in the artefact depict other acrobatic satyrs in various states of drunkenness.
It boggles my mind to think that this piece of pornographic pottery is as old as Buddhism.
Currently located at the British Museum.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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).