Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's In Your Walls?

It is an ancient and common practice to hide shoes, clothing, and other items in the walls and under the floorboards of houses. Folk legends suggest this is a way to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. A 1996 article on concealed shoes by June Swann records more than a thousand cases from Britain, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey, North America, Australia, and a possible finding from China dating back to the 11th century. Shoes are considered particularly powerful, according to Swann:

Why the shoe? It is the only garment we wear which retains the shape, the personality, the essence of the wearer.

She points out that a scholar had suggested the practice may be linked with a fourteenth century belief that a rector in Buckinghamshire "conjured the devil into a boot."

"But one could rationalize this tradition," she adds, "as the shoes of his time were so narrow and pointed (some were actually called devil’s horns) that it would be easy to believe the devil was pinching you, a suggestion women today will understand. But it does reinforce the idea that evil can be lured into a boot."

The website Apotroptropaios (the Greek word for "evil averting") has a review of more than a hundred dried cats found stuffed in buildings. It has pages discussing written charms, horse skulls, and witch-bottles as well. The Deliberately Concealed Garments Project catalogues all kinds of clothing, and they have great pictures of coats and tattered shirts.

Makes you wonder what's hiding in your home, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Web Witchery

The Malleus Maleficarum or The Witches' Hammer is a notorious testament to the occult hysteria that gripped medieval Europe. It's online at
Written in the late 15th century by German inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger under a Papal Bull by Innocent VIII, it was an argument against skepticism toward witchcraft and also a guidebook for judges on identifying, interrogating and prosecuting witches.
Reverend Montague Summers brought the Malleus to the general English-speaking audience in 1928. Wicasta Lovelace and Christie Rice put this version on the web. Their introduction is a fascinating guide to the history of the book with links to other sources. The search function does not find every word, but it helps you to find specific witch-related doctrines quickly. And each section has an index with very detailed chapter headings.

Did witches allegedly change people into beasts?
Did they supposedly fly on broomsticks?
What was their pact with the devil?

It's definitely worth a look.
And it goes without saying, but I'll say it: The creepiness of the Malleus does not come from the actions of these supposed witches. The creepiness comes from the very real crimes judges, townsfolk, and political leaders committed against thousands of victims they accused of witchcraft. Whether there is a devil or not is the subject of metaphysical debate. But evil exists. And it's often committed by the most respectable of people.
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