Magic Or Medicine?

Magic Or Medicine?

Doctors / Physicians

Doctor   Hans Brock der Altere (c. 1584)

Throughout history, people have consulted doctors to diagnose and treat their ailments, but educated physicians were rare, expensive, and often dangerous. There was no understanding of how germs spread disease.  Indeed, well into the seventeenth century practitioners still followed Galen’s Greek notion that the body was made up of four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile – and when one of these fluids got out of balance the body fell sick.  Leeches and blood-letting were common practices because fevers were thought to originate from having too much blood in the body.

Barber-surgeons

Quack  Franz Anton Maulbertsch (c. 1785)

The first barber-surgeons were monks who aided parishioners in their monasteries.  They often advocated a heavy dose of fasting and prayer to accompany their herbal remedies.

Later on, barber-surgeons  were found on battlefields tending the wounded.  In the age before anesthetics, surgery was considered a lowly occupation and these quacks performed many of the procedures that physicians refused to do, including barbaric amputations, teeth-pulling, enemas, and blood-letting for those who could not afford a physician.

Apothecaries

Apothecary

If a person knew what was wrong and merely required a cure, they could visit the apothecary.  These were early pharmacists who made medicines, salves, and potions, and also gave out advice on surgery and midwifery.  Their tonics consisted of herbs, minerals, animal parts, urine, honey, and a variety of fats.

Cunning Men and Wise Women

Cunning Folk

If you could not afford any of the above, a cure might be found with a folk-healer.  Cunning men and wise women used magic, prayer, herbal lore, and family experience to tackle the everyday ailments of the townsfolk, villagers, farmers, and their livestock.  They were cheaper than apothecaries and could be paid by trading goods instead of money.  The cunning folk also provided an array of services for specific problems that could be dealt with very discretely – contraceptive powders, abortion, love potions, impotence cures, and poisons.

Some of the more unfortunate – or unpopular – cunning folk got caught up in the witch hunts that swept across Europe throughout that period.  But when people began realizing these healers were not only useful, but necessary, new regulations appeared that differentiated between good magic and bad.  Lighter sentences were handed out – time spent in the pillory or jail – and capital punishment was only awarded to witches – those in league with demons, who conjured up devils or committed murder.

By the end of the Seventeenth Century extensive advancements had been made.  William Harvey discovered how the heart controls blood circulation in the body; Ambroise Pare made important breakthroughs for treating war wounds; Marcello Malpighi invented the microscope; and the first blood transfusions were carried out at the Royal Society in London.  But it took a great many years for these advancements to permeate throughout England.  In the meantime, the common people continued to pray and turn to the wise women for help!

 

Boggarts and Bogeymen

Boggart

Boggarts have terrified English country-folk for hundreds of years.  Particularly feared in Lancashire,  they were said to haunt the fields, woods, and marshes – sometimes stealing away naughty children.  The term Boggart derives from the Middle English bug meaning ghost, hobgoblin, or object of terror (OED).

According to those who have seen these spirits, Boggarts come in many shapes and sizes.  Sometimes they appear as ugly humans, while others have described them as beast-like creatures.  Everyone, however, seems to agree that they are hairy, strong, have strange eyes, and sometimes resemble devils.

Tradition says that if a Boggart is given a name it becomes destructive and unreasonable, rather than simply mischievous.  Perhaps for this reason these sprites are often referred to generically as The Bogeyman. 

While they have sometimes been held accountable for poltergeist activity inside the home, Lancashire Boggarts prefer the outdoors – they scare people with eerie noises, overturn farm items, sour milk and ale, lame animals, and leave behind weird hoof-prints.  They also get blamed when children or travelers go missing.

So how do you ward off Boggarts and Bogeymen?

Stay away from the places they roam, especially at night.  And hang a horseshoe over the front door of the house – or leave a pile of salt outside your bedroom.

Sweet dreams!

Horseshoe The Golden Horseshoe (William Michael Harnett)

 Sources:

Wikipedia: “Boggarts” accessed 3/28/2015

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon,1993)

Olde English Rice Pudding

For a deliciously creamy rice pudding, try my Great Grandmother’s version:

Ingredients

knob of butter

1 pint of full milk

2oz short grain pudding rice

2oz castor sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

pinch salt

fresh grated nutmeg

1/4 pint fresh whipping cream

rice pudding

Method

1. Heat the oven Gas 2/150 c/300 f

2. Grease a 2-pint baking dish with the knob of butter.

3. Slowly heat the milk in a large pan on the stove.  Add the rice, sugar, salt, and vanilla essence, stirring constantly until the mixture boils.

4. Pour into a greased baking dish.  Sprinkle with lots of grated nutmeg.

5. Bake 60-90 minutes until golden brown on top.

6. Remove and cool slightly.

7. Carefully peel off the skin if not required (though most people love it).  Fold in the fresh cream and stir well.

8. Serve warm with homemade raspberry, strawberry, or blackberry jam.

 For a fruitier, chewy version fold in 4oz of dried fruit (currants, raisins, or sultanas) to the pan of boiled rice before pouring into the baking dish. 

Kit’s Crit: The Familiars (Stacey Halls)

The Familiars is in many ways a modern gothic romance set against the backdrop of the Lancashire witch trials. It tells of seventeen-year-old Fleetwood Shuttleworth’s plight to provide an heir for Gawthorpe Hall after three unsuccessful pregnancies. She enlists the help of a mysterious local wise woman – Alice Grey – who later becomes one of the accused victims. After a string of dangerous adventures, however, things reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Unlike other recent books on the Pendle Witches, Stacey Halls chooses a minor, overlooked historical character as her focal point. Alice Grey is a midwife who may or may not be associated with a familiar in the guise of a red fox, though any magic we see her perform is practical herbalism rather than supernatural spell-casting. Yet we experience Alice through the eyes of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a privileged narrator far removed from the violence and poverty of the accused witches, who only rushes to help the midwife for personal gain. Halls’ description of the Well Tower in Lancaster Castle is the closet we get to understanding the harrowing ordeal that these real prisoners went through. But having read some of the early reviews, such sanitizing of historical unpleasantness may be necessary for the modern squeamish reader.

The Familiars is an enjoyable story based on the few facts known about the events of 1612. I particularly liked the thoughtful observation that bearbaiting in London was popular because the bloodthirsty townsfolk did not get a chance to hunt!

Halls’ historical research is sound, the setting well-crafted, and the characters consistent with the gothic romance genre. This novel will appeal to readers who want to taste what living through a witch hunt may have been like, but without any graphic information.

The “Witch” Church

Newchurch

Newchurch-in-Pendle is an ancient village in the North of England, close to where several of the Lancashire Witches once lived and roamed.  It has been a religious center since Druid days, with the first Christian building appearing around 1250.  In 1544, a stone chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester, possibly with the original tower.  Then a gallery was added in 1915, though the current St. Mary’s Church that stands here today has been restored and renovated many times since throughout the centuries.

Graveyard (2)

The most fascinating feature is the carving on the west face of the tower (under the clock face) – a large eye said to symbolize the all-seeing Eye of God.  In earlier years though, this may have been a talisman to ward off evil from the local cunning folk who were forced by law to attend services here every Sunday.  Today, St. Mary’s is also one of the few remaining churches that still celebrates the medieval Rushbearing Festival with a special service each August.

Graveyard (1)

The graveyard contains the headstones of many old families.  The Nutter plot (dated 1694) likely contains the  descendants of Alice Nutter, one of the witches executed in 1612.  From this consecrated soil, another witch – Old Chattox – supposedly stole twelve teeth that she later traded with her rival, Old Demdike.

In later times the village funeral processions were led by two black horses, and when these were spotted coming over Nanny Maud Hill the church bells began tolling The Passing Bell.

The Bone Room opens onto the graveyard, and for many years served as the Charnel House – a place where human remains were stored.  These were skeleton parts that had either been dug up by accident, or intentionally removed to make room in a plot for fresh bodies.

St. Mary’s Church is one of two major landmarks to have outlived the old belief in magic.  The other – providing its majestic backdrop – is the famous Pendle Hill.

Hill

Sources:

Clayton, John A.  A History of Pendle Forest and the Pendle Witch Trials (Lancashire: Barrowford Press, 2007)

Stansfield, Andy. The Forest of Bowland & Pendle Hill (Devon: Halsgrove House, 2006)

“St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch in Pendle.”  Wikipedia, accessed 3/23/2015