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  • Beachcombed 27 September 1, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback

    Dear Readers, 1 Sept 2012

    This last months has been one of intense work and, at least for a couple of days, intense rest. Lots of writing was done and for six gruelling days Beach put footnotes down like breadcrumbs in the forest:  he can still hear the screeching of the ravens in his dreams. There was, then, the great internet blackout of 2012 when Beach had to supercharge a laptop and walk a kilometre to get a signal through to the outside world, and this is in a place where wolves have recently been seen gamboling among the olive trees. In short, it was a satisfying but testing month.

    Beach was beyond pathetic in putting up comments as he concentrated on his own writing and borrowed extensively from his reserve posts. He, in fact, very cunningly left all the comments to the last two days and it took him about six hours. This is what is known in the blogging vernacular as ‘a bad idea’. Reading through the comments though today and yesterday he was struck again by the extraordinary talent, insight and knowledge that they represent. Beach feels privileged in short to ‘waste’ half a dozen hours in sharing this stuff with the world. He usually limits comments to ten thousand words. This month he tipped over to twelve thousand.

    As Beachcombing writes all is domestic bliss. Downstairs a hamster and little miss B are alternatively abusing each other. Mrs B is preparing the mega Saturday dinner that have become traditional fare in our family: this week angel cake, fried zucchini flowers and sage, carrot soup with nutmeg, sweet corn with Ligurian olive oil, marinated egg plant, roast potatoes with rosemary, lemon sorbet, felafel, best English cider and Puglian cheese with chutneys. (Only about ten hours to go now). Tiny Miss B is watching the rabbit. And Australian aupair is getting ready for the arrival of her boyfriend.

    Anyway, back to business… Beach’s online reading has been modest this month. Certainly the public domain deserves some publicity; the lack of roads in London was fun; here is the worst-best historical joke of the month and perhaps sweetest of all for a naturalist manque like Beach animal hybrids. Below find instead twenty-six of the best historical links sent in by readers: to whom sincere thanks. Many happy internet minutes were spent here.

    And now the real deal… The twelve thousand most important words from this month. Long life and lazy Saturday meals to all beachcombers… You have only the waves to lose, the sands await.

    Procopius: Howard W writes in: The quote you give from Procopius is the translation by Dewing I think.
    Unfortunately, it is inaccurate. Procopius does not call Britannia an Island. See this alternate translation here: Given that, I think it is entirely plausible that Britannia = Britanny, the name which Gregory of Tours gives it, while Brittia = Britain. Of course it is still remarkable how ignorant of Britain Procopius is. Thanks Howard!

    Monarchy and Environment: First Andy: ‘What you are looking for is Lysenkoism, a “science” pushed by Trofim Lysenko in the soviet days.  He decided that ofspring would inherit acquired traits, so a plant regularly plucked of it’s leaves, would produce seedlings which were bare of leaves.  Applied to people, a son of blacksmiths would be a better blacksmith, a daughter of ballet dancers would be a better dancer, because her parents were so skilled.  There is an entertaining short story debunking it in the “Spontoon Island” archive – (based on a world of human-animal hybrids) Then Tacitus from Detritus: Regards the genetics of monarchy you must make allowances for human frailty and dalliance.  Sure, kings had liaisons all the time, but it would be naive to imagine that queens-although closely supervised-did not diversify the gene pool on occasion.  Henry VIII was not entirely paranoid.  And of course throughout history there were a smattering of monarchs who were more than willing to subcontract this sort of thing.  Yes, I am  looking at you Edward II. Long ago I posted on my blog something that has caused me pangs of regret: I mean really, folks looking for something serious on the English Civil War get nonsense like this.  Thousands of folks.  More this week due to the damn royal corgis. I suppose the modern era of tabloids and DNA testing will relegate royal hanky panky to the obsolescence that is monarchy in general in these swank times.’ Thanks Tacitus and Andy!

    Queens on Top: Invisible has several theories: 1) Women rulers, certainly women rulers of the 12th-19th century, who had been told from babyhood that women were weaker, prone to hysteria, would go mad with too much learning, and needed to be under the dominion of a husband or father, knew that they had to be better than their male counterparts just to keep their thrones. Loose analogy: They had to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. 2) There was a revulsion against murdering kings, but it could be justified when necessary. But there was a particular revulsion against killing women rulers. Queens (other than Henry VIII’s brides and Marie Antoinette) were normally sent into exile or convents, rather than being murdered. Possibly this squeamishness contributed to queen regnant survival rates. Exile might allow a queen to live long enough to make a triumphant comeback. 3) Women may be more ruthless than men. I’ve had police officers tell me that you do NOT want to mess with a female officer–she will just shoot you if you give her trouble–since she probably cannot win in a physical  fight. Remember, too, the Russian women soldiers of the Second World War. I suspect (but offer no proof) that queens may have been more apt to order pre-emptive strikes on enemies and to have been more willing to eliminate anyone they regarded as a threat–that would certainly be my policy, should I ever come to the throne! 4) Your point about shock is well-taken. Think of Dr Johnson’s remark about female preachers: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” DY writes Without entering the debate whether Queens really do make better monarchs or not, I suggest that if they do, then – apart from the possibilities that you have raised – the simple reason is that they rely upon a wider spectrum of advisers than Kings. Maybe they need to build more of a consensus to make up for political weakness, maybe women are more inclined to group decisions, maybe the males politicking for advancement are more a threat to any weaknesses in a Queen than a King and thus need to be appeased more, maybe a Queen tends not to develop a ‘band of brothers’ before accession so has no single power base of confirmed supporters and needs to politic herself, maybe women are better listeners and less driven by the demands of ego, maybe the accession of woman tends to be supported by more of a consensus as it tends to be an event that solves a problem and involve compromise more than a male successor and that political deal making carries on into the reign…. My assumption here is that listening to a range of perceptions from the experienced and taking into account differing points of view will tend to make a better ruler. I think that’s a very defendable proposition. To test this somebody could compare the ‘top’ male monarchs against the lesser ones, and see if the top ones relied on  broader spectrum of advisers.’ Then the Count: Anyway, your interesting point about queens being disproportionately better than kings has set me to thinking. One obvious suggestion is that, quite apart from women being basically less aggressive than men, under the European system, the oldest male child will automatically become monarch, but all female children must take second place to any males there happen to be. Thus the firstborn male will be raised from infancy to assume that he is special and wonderful and literally appointed by God Almighty to rule the country one day. That kind of conditioning must surely have a less than ideal effect on a growing boy’s ego! Whereas a little girl won’t get the same treatment, since as long as there’s any possibility of further additions to the Royal Family, she’ll probably be supplanted by a younger brother. They’ll only start grooming her for the throne once it becomes certain that no male heirs will be forthcoming. Queen Elizabeth I would never have gotten the top job if her brother Edward hadn’t been too sickly to outlive his dad. It might be interesting to see if male monarchs with deceased older brothers also happen to be unusually good at their jobs? So in England and thereabouts, it was pure luck if a woman ascended to the throne. And they weren’t necessarily ideal rulers – consider Elizabeth’s predecessor Mary Tudor, who probably didn’t really drink vodka and tomato juice, but is remembered almost entirely for being a horrible person who turned into a cocktail. And of course Mary, Queen of Scots, who could have been Mary, Queen of England too if her power-struggle with Cousin Liz had gone the other way – If Mary Tudor had lived a bit longer, they could have done The Good, The Bad And The Ugly in drag, which would have been interesting. A more interesting civilization in this respect is Ancient Egypt, where the system of electing a new ruler from the previous one’s huge and very complicated family was fairly flexible, but, although women had a surprising number of rights considering the period, the pharaoh was supposed to be male every time. Thus female pharaohs were very rare indeed – the accepted number of women who, over that entire period of several thousand years, were the undisputed sole ruler is between four and six, probably nearer four. So obviously a woman couldn’t become pharaoh unless they were having very serious problems finding an appropriately royal male person. Which, what with all that inbreeding, must have been a major problem at times. So it’s interesting that, out of those very few women to get the job, one of them was Hatshepsut, often compared directly with Elizabeth I, and definitely one of the best – arguable the very best – pharaoh Egypt ever had. Her 22-year reign was marked by unprecedented economic growth, and willingness to expand trade far beyond Egypt’s borders to hitherto unknown lands. It’s a mark of how insular the Ancient Egyptians were that Hatshepsut gained massive kudos for personally opening up trade links with some mysterious and impossibly distant land called Punt that was probably Libya. Also, she doesn’t seem to have been particularly interested in unnecessary wars.  It should be noted that, if I remember correctly (wikipedia is unhelpful in this respect, as in so many others), to keep it all legal, Hatshepsut was declared to be officially male in all respects other than actually being male, and for ceremonial purposes sometimes wore a false beard. Unfortunately, that tiny clutch of female pharaohs also includes Cleopatra VII, who, despite being much more famous than Hatshepsut, mainly for being incredibly sexy (though actually surviving statues would seem to suggest that there wasn’t really a lot to choose between them in that respect – Cleo didn’t remotely resemble Liz Taylor, but may have been a dead ringer for Barbara Streisand), was so spectacularly disastrous that she was the very last pharaoh of them all (that honor sometimes goes to her teenage son Caesarion, but he was never officially crowned or did anything regal at all, and outlived her by a matter of weeks). And then of course you have Catherine the Great, a female man to make Thatcher proud who seems to have gone out of her way to marry a man who she detested, who may have been insane, and who was certainly already an alcoholic at the age of ten, who reigned as tsar for six months before his wife deposed him and probably had him strangled. And then she became the longest-reigning and most important ruler Russia ever had, and that includes Stalin (fortunately she was much nicer than him – though that isn’t hard to achieve). Sadly it’s not true about the horse. And let’s not forget Boudica, a classic Strong Woman who was a victim of circumstances, if only because she’s allegedly, though highly implausibly, supposed to be buried between platforms nine and ten of King’s Cross Station. Presumably under that magical in-between platform where you catch the Hogwarts Express.’ KMH writes We should understand that queens do not have the divine right to rule over a country that kings have.  No religion (the source of kingship)  has ever given  women the right or opportunity to rule over men. Queens exist for the purpose of bearing the children who will become kings. Of course, theory is one thing, practice is another. Because the institution of monarchy has suffered long-term degeneration over the centuries, producing too many bad or indifferent kings, the rule by queens can  compare favorably to that of kings at this point in history.  All existing monarchies are destined to disappear, probably by the end of the next world war, due to the hostility of communism/socialism. “After us, the deluge,” And last but not least Celeste Culpepper: it seems to me, during the post-Cold War period, that some nations turned to female rulers as a sign that they wished to change, to progress. In the 1990s, Bangla Desh had elections with two women running against one another. This was perhaps a reaction to the military rule and disruption of the past. During that same era, several notable women won Nobel Peace Prizes, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was blocked from power. There was a sense, for a little while, that the world was making a new start and putting women in positions of power seemed part of that. Of course, you were speaking of monarchy. I was recently looking at the last years of the Tuscan Grand Duchy where there were legal impediments to female accession to the throne. When Cosimo III lay dying, he tried desperately to have his daughter become grand duchess as opposed to his son, Gian Gastone, who wasn’t really all that interested in questions of governance. In the end the female accession was blocked by larger powers, who wanted to control the Tuscan throne — but this was so late into the decay of Italian mini-states that it probably didn’t make much of a long term difference to Tuscany. Anyway, Gian seems to me to have some things in common with Sweden’s Queen Christina, who also wasn’t that interested in ruling and eventually abdicated. So perhaps the question isn’t one of sex, but rather that of a taste for power — something you take for granted in democratic candidates for office, but is more hit and miss in hereditary situations.’ Thanks, Count, Invisible, Celeste, DY and KMH.

    High Placed Spy: LTM writes ‘I believe Reinhard Gehlen was the first to suggest Martin Bormann was working for Stalin.  But the proof will most likely never be known and even then debated, as with Alger Hiss when the archives opened a bit.’ LTM also suggests with Andy the intriguing Canaris. In Andy’s words  A gentleman who is very difficult to define is Admiral Canaris – he led the German spy network, but there is evidence that he delivered details of all of Hitler’s research and special projects like Radar, V1 and V2 systems etc to the allies on two occasions during the war. Thanks Andy and LTM!

    Cellini: Jonathan Jarrett from A Corner writes: Your commentator LK’s memory is more or less correct, and I can provide the chapter and verse: the custom is attested from eleventh-century Normandy, and I learnt about it from Elisabet van Houts’s paper, “Gender and Authority of Oral Witnesses in Europe (800-1300)” in _Transactions of the Royal Historical Society_ 6th Series Vol. 9 (1999), pp. 201-220, which (pp. 206-207) cites a land-grant to Rouen (ed. in Fauroux, _Recueil des Actes des ducs de Normandie de 911 à 1066_ (Caen 1961), no. 10), which records of the transactors that: “they whipped many boys there and well refreshed them with the record and memory of this deed” (my translation, not very different from that of Emilie Zack Tabuteau’s in her _Transfers of Property in Eleventh-Century Norman Law_ (Chapel Hill 1988), p. 148, which van Houts quotes; she also gives Fauroux’s Latin text, “et flagelaverunt ibi plures puerulos atque bene refocillaverunt in recordatione et memoratione hujus facti”). I initially thought this practice was in the Salic Law, but it seems in fact to be one of those things that comes from an outlying source but has become standard knowledge because it’s such a good teaching anecdote! Nevertheless, grist to the mill?’ thanks JJ!

    Psyche pictures: The incomparable Janet Bord writes: ‘I have just seen the item The Psyche Fairy Fake on your blog (March item) and wanted to let you know, just for the record, that we have more of Doc Shiels’ fairy photographs, from the same series, in our archive.  However I can’t add anything with regard to their background.  Doc never admitted they were faked – though of course they clearly are. Thanks Janet!

    White Man’s Land: Here is some stuff from Pridain on North Atlantic exploration. KB contests, meanwhile, perhaps justly: Regarding the ability to communicate ideas without much speech. 1. Drawing of figures or maps 2. Pointing, to a direction, to a color, to a person 3. Holding up a number of fingers, or making a number of marks to indicate numbers (how far, how many men) 4. Charades, hand gestures (to indicate a long robe with fringe perhaps?) 5. For travelers over water, all of the above plus a few shared words or phrases. For example, an Inuit fisherman who knew about the people on White Man’s Land might have visited there often enough to learn a few words of the language (possibly Irish.) Irishmen (or Whitemanslanders) who could get this far west by water could probably get to an Inuit village that was closer than Ireland, and may have shared a bit of language already.  If either the Whitemanlander/Irishman or the Inuit man also had been around previous explorer Norsemen or Vikings he might have picked up a bit of their language/s also.  A Viking or Norseman who was an explorer might also know a few words of Irish, as well as other languages, including, possibly, a smattering of Inuit words. People who travel on the water for their living often know at least a bit of other languages, enough to trade, ask directions, and in general to assist with their purpose or with their survival. Why couldn’t they have communicated? Thanks Pridain and KB!!

    Eating Prisoners: Tacitus from Detritus of Empire writes ‘Alas, cannibalism of prisoners persisted to modern times.  Many, many reports of this in the Pacific late in WWII.  Some combination of plain hunger as the Japanese supply line broke down, perhaps with some mystical “strength of my enemy” overtones.  As to the fate of prisoners in the 1500 to 1800 era, at least with sailors a lot of them were just given job offers.  If you had reasonable and useful skills you were offered a range of benefits.  Death, prison hulk or signing on with a new boss.  Since both ships and crew members sometimes switched sides under duress more than once it would have made a 1700s copy of Janes Fighting Ships rather a mess.’ Thanks Tacitus!

    Prolific authors: Beach’s favourite emails this month came for this post. Here is that master of Ephemera, the Count: The all-time champion in this category has to be Charles Hamilton – George Orwell wrote an essay about him. And then there’s Lionel Fanthorpe (yes, that bloke from Fortean TV.). With over 250 books to his credit, he certainly qualifies, especially when you consider the following:  Fanthorpe began working for Badger Books in the early 1950s, and over the period of the next 15 years produced many books under different pseudonyms, some of which were house names shared with other of Badger Books’ writers. These included: Victor La Salle, John E. Muller, and Karl Zeigfreid. Pseudonyms exclusive to Fanthorpe’s short story output include Neil Balfort, Othello Baron, Noel Bertram, Oben Leterth, Elton T. Neef, Peter O’Flinn, René Rolant, Robin Tate and Deutero Spartacus. Names he used for novels include Erle Barton, Lee Barton, Thornton Bell, Leo Brett, Bron Fane, L.P. Kenton, Phil Nobel, Lionel Roberts, Neil Thanet, Trebor Thorpe, Pel Torro, and Olaf Trent. The exact number of books Fanthorpe wrote for Badger Books is not known, but is estimated to be in excess of 180, 89 of which were written in a 3 year period – an average of a 158 page book every 12 days. During his time at Badger Books, Fanthorpe was essentially a small cog in a large publishing machine. The way the company worked was to acquire the cover art before the book was written, and send it to the author who then had to write a story around the cover. In some cases, Badger Books re-used cover art that had been produced to illustrate completely different novels. For example, Fanthorpe’s 1960 novel Hand of Doom was written to suit a cover that had been produced to illustrate John Brunner’s Slavers of Space, which formed one half of Ace double D-421. Apparently he sometimes used a system of dictating into tape recorders, and the moment a reel was full, it was rushed to the typing pool. Unfortunately, he sometimes “wrote” faster than the girls could type, and the reels piled up. What with one thing and another, they were from time to time transcribed in the wrong order, and printed that way before anyone noticed. But in terms of plot coherence and overall quality, it didn’t really matter. Galaxy 666 by “Pel Torro” is sometimes said to be the worst sci-fi novel ever written. For further information, check out this bibliography, and this amazing cover gallery! And spare a thought for Henry Darger. He may only have written one novel, but it was 15,145 pages long.’ Wade writes: ‘’Frederick Faust, aka Max Brand among many other pen names, is the pulp writer that fits your prolific pulp writer suggestion, and according to this Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Brand Faust was cranking out a million published words a year during the 1920s. He is my mother-in-law’s favorite writer. She loves those Max Brand Westerns. Having read a number of them at her urging, it’s amazing to me what a good, solid professional he was at the pace he maintained.’ Macmac writes: Might I suggest the Dame Barbara Cartland.  Eighty years of work, 722 books, average somewhere around a book every 40 days.  While I have read no more than a few lines of hers, I recall in earlier less electronically distracting days her books making a virtual wallpaper of more than one (usually female) acquaintance’s bookshelves, with the signatory flourish rather like an Arabic script in its heavy paperback spine repetition. Guinness record holder for most novels written in a single year (23 in 1983) When did she find time to have her hair done?’ Kate and Ruth the unstoppably curious drag Asimov in. Ruth, first, Husband and I used to joke that Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)  was a one-man book-of-the-month club. I don’t know where Dr Asimov might fit on your bell curve of literary output.  As to quality, I have noted that some of his writings did not have as much thought put into them as others, but his best were very good and very thought provoking.  He inspired a generation or two with the science bug. As a point of interest and possibly pertinent to prolific output – Dr Asimov apparently (I do not recall where I read this) had agoraphobia to a significant degree, and had a strong tendency to remain home. Ricardo finally remembers: Once I saw an enterview on the telly about this actress turned script writer. And she said she would never again write another soap as she had to write 60 pages per day of script every day for the duration of the soap… so I would think soap writers should rank in there… somewhere.’ Thanks to Kate, Ruth, Ricardo, the Count and Wade.

    Celiac: Mike Z has this thought on an illness that comes through: It took centuries for scientists to discover that pellegra, a disease caused by niacin deficiency, could be cured by adopting the Indian method of preparing maize with an alkali.  Thousands of poor people in the southern U.S. who ate little else but maize died of pellagra every year. KB writes Slow to learn: That deliberately bleeding patients did not cure infectious diseases. That insects bites caused (transmitted) disease.That trepanning (drilling holes in the skull) did not cure migraines, epilepsy or insanity. That foul odors did not cause disease. That putting sewage into rivers was not a good option for better public health. That common folk who knew the uses and doses of herbs were better at prescribing than most “trained” doctors. That diseases could be transmitted via sex. That frequent baths were not bad for your health. That being out in the cold does not expose you to colds, but being inside in a crowd might. That spoiled or undercooked foods can cause dysentery and death. That what you catch today might not actually cause symptoms or kill you until years later. That persons can be carriers of disease without being symptomatic themselves. That fresh air does not cure consumption (tuberculosis.) Quick to learn: That people will pay for quackery, especially when presented as science. That a fast and large return on quack medicines far outweighs later lawsuit costs. That selling health insurance is extremely profitable, especially when insurance companies set the health care rules. That an ounce of preventive medicine is worth a small fortune: treat the well until you make them sick, and you will have a repeat patient.’ The Count has a bone to pick: Medical science slow to catch on to the bleedin’ obvious? Surely not! Yet it is in fact true that until well into the 19th century, European medicine was so awful that it’s easier to list every method of treatment they had that actually worked than to catalogue their failings. So I’ll do just that. Digitalis, derived from foxgloves, is an effective heart stimulant that’s still used today. Opium didn’t cure anybody of anything, but made them feel much better about being ill. And latterly, the New World wonder-drug quinine did actually cure fevers in general and malaria in particular very effectively (though they wouldn’t have known about it if they hadn’t asked a bunch of Stone Age tribesmen). And that’s it. Seriously! All other medical treatments were either useless or positively harmful. I think it was Galen who, while making an honest attempt to assess medical practices purely on their objective merits, concluded that weapon salve actually worked. This was one of the silliest medicines ever devised – the idea was that, if you’d been injured by a weapon, you smeared this gunk on the weapon, not on the wound. You also had to keep the wound clean and lightly bandaged in order to allow the mysterious influences to get to it. The more conventional alternative was to smear any old random concoction the doctor happened to think might work on the injury, bind it as tightly as possible, and just hope your leg didn’t mysteriously go all black and smelly. Obviously, with medical science this dire, applying the cure to an inanimate object rather than yourself greatly reduced the risk of infection, and thus seemed to work. Homeopathy gained its reputation in France in the late 18th century for precisely the same reason – medicine consisting entirely of water that did exactly nothing visibly resulted in far more cures than the conventional muck. One of the later King Louis – I forget whether it was XIV, XV or XVI – had a peasant nurse who doted on him more than any of his siblings, and for some inexplicable reason didn’t think doctors were all that good at their job, so whenever the royal babies had a childhood illness, she’d hide little Louis. Therefore he was the only one who got no medical treatment at all. He was also the only one who survived. There was even an 18th century French physician whose fame rested on one miraculous pill he’d concocted, which was basically a lump of gold, and could thus pass through the human digestive system completely unaltered. Since it had no effect at all, it was better for you than seeing a real doctor. And when it came out as things eventually do, he’d give it a wash and administer it to the next patient – the price steadily went up as it passed through more and more aristocratic digestive tracts. Sort of like “I’ve danced with a man who’s danced with a girl who’s danced with the Prince of Wales”. All of this was ultimately the fault of the Ancient Greeks. Although the cleverest of them were superb mathematicians, they had an irrational prejudice against experimental science, which they viewed as a plebian getting-your-hands-dirty sort of activity. Also, it was assumed that the truth of a scientific theory could be judged purely by its perceived elegance (a prejudice shared by Albert Einstein, who ruined his chances of a second Nobel Prize when he fudged his own results to prevent the Universe from doing anything as messy as expanding because he intuitively felt that it shouldn’t, and never accepted that quantum physics really worked, even though he’d helped to invent it). This completely barking mad “scientific” results entered the canon, and weren’t challenged for 2,000 years because the Ancient Greeks knew everything (including the fact that you don’t see swallows in the Winter because they dive into ponds and hibernate in the mud). Thus doctors were burdened with the theory of the four humours, which had precisely zero to do with actual biology, but seemed like an elegant idea to the Greeks, on account of the world being made of four elements (they didn’t do much practical testing of that one either). It was beautifully simple. The human body is in perfect balance if the quantities of four crucial substances – blood, bile, phlegm, and black bile (which, by the way, doesn’t even exist) are equal. If one predominates, then you are at best sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, or melancholy. If one predomites more than that, you get ill. The treatment therefore relies on restoring the balance by removing the excess quantities of whatever substance is supposed to be over-abundant. Hence blood-letting, cupping and leeches. It would seem to be pretty obvious that people who lose a lot of blood become weaker and eventually die, therefore deliberately draining blood from people who are already ill is unlikely to improve their chances. Yet within the last 200 years, blood-letting was still being used in this country to treat almost everything, including anaemia. Dosing seriously ill people with violent emetics and laxatives also tends to weaken them, especially if the doctor keeps on doing it until the substances emerging from one or both ends of the patient are in his opinion the non-existent black bile, or a reasonable substitute. But nobody noticed that either. Even herbalism was seriously compromised by peculiar beliefs which should have been self-evidently wrong. There’s a verse in Genesis in which God gives Adam dominion over all plants, which have been created especially for his use. This was taken to mean that God had helpfully made each plant in such a way that its medicinal use was indicated by the shape of its leaves or whatever. Obviously this is not so, and if you have kidney disease, eating a plant with kidney-shaped leaves is unlikely to help you, and may be seriously harmful. But since it was literally taken to be gospel truth, the idea wasn’t questioned, let alone experimentally evaluated. It should be noted that, in peasant communities, the local wise woman or cunning man was the only doctor they had, but he or she had to be very careful indeed. Disease and poison were very poorly understood, and the Ancient Hebrew word for “witch” in the Biblical phrase “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” was literally identical to “poisoner”. Such people, assuming they weren’t suicidally insane, would have been keenly aware of any direct consequences resultant upon taking one of their potions, because any suspicion that they were causing harm could very well have gotten them burnt at the stake. Thus it’s a safe bet that their herbal nostrums had been tested either on themselves, or on an ancestor who had proved their point by not being burnt at the stake. So in all probability, a village wise woman was not only a better physician than the best city doctor, but knew more about the scientific method, even if she didn’t know that’s what she was doing. And then of course there’s mercury. It looks special and mysterious, therefore it must be good for you. Since ingesting large quantities of it inevitably kills you in a horrible way after first driving you completely insane, you’d think that cause and effect would be screamingly obvious. Apparently not. An early emperor of China, whose name escapes me, but he was the fellow responsible for all those terracotta warriors, was advised by his court physicians that the best way to become immortal, and ultimately a god, was to eat as much mercury as possible. Were they able to quote case histories of previous patients who had lived to be, at the very least, 150? I very much doubt it! Fortunately he was a horrible person who was never very sane to begin with, and thoroughly deserved his inevitable fate. Ironically, his tomb supposedly contains dioramas of his kingdom that include rivers and lakes of mercury. This is almost certainly true, since the mercury content of the soil around his tomb is abnormal to say the least. They haven’t dug it up yet for several reasons, the most bizarre being that equally reliable legends speak of Indiana Jones-style booby-traps involving crossbows and the like, and it’s just conceivable that they might still work. Who said archaeology was boring? Thanks KB, Count and Mike!!

    Cursing: PP writes ‘A few years ago, HBO produced a series called ‘Rome’ during which two instances of cursing were depicted, both by the same woman. In the 1st, Servilia of the Junii (mother of Brutus & mistress of Caesar) uses inscribed lead tablets and incantations said over them to curse JC, who has forsaken her, and her rival Atia of the Julii, who has arranged said forsaking. Each gets a lead tablet secreted in the wall of their house. Sacrifice seems to have been a necessary element in these deals with the gods. Here, instead of killing an animal, Servilia offers the victims’ explicitly named parts, “…his breath, his liver, his stomach, his penis….” But it’s the second curse of Atia by Servilia that I wonder about. Having lost everything due to Atia’s further machinations, Servilia kneels outside Atia’s door, incessantly calling for attention while covering herself with ashes. Finally Atia comes out. Before a gathered crowd of passersby, Servilia curses Atia, then seals the curse with the ultimate sacrifice, followed dutifully by her body slave. (A truly awful and sorrowful scene.)  I wonder:  was such self-sacrifice in payment for a curse actually practiced?’ Thanks PP!

    Glut of Celebrity: First is the Count ‘You’re forgetting a classic example – The First Book of Samuel, Chapter 26, in which Saul consults the Witch of Endor to conjure up the ghost of the prophet Samuel for advice on an important battle with the Philistines. It’s interesting that not just any old spirit will do – it has to be an Ancient Hebrew VIP. It’s also interesting that the witch claims to be able to see the apparition because she is psychic, but Saul cannot – he merely hears a mysterious voice. The account is a little obscure, and it isn’t entirely clear what some of it means, but it sounds as though the witch may well have used an easily faked trick such as ventriloquism, or a speaking-tube connected to a male assistant. More than one ancient temple seems to have had hidden speaking-tubes through which the “oracle” uttered its doubtful wisdom. Since the most miraculous aspect of the tale – the apparition of Samuel – is something Saul cannot see and has to take the witch’s word for, she sounds a lot like a modern medium of dubious authenticity, and unlike just about everything else in the Old Testament, nothing really inexplicable happens at all. It’s also interesting that the ghostly voice tells him that he has angered God through this act of necromancy, therefore he will lose the battle, and he and his family will all die. Driven to despair by this gloomy forecast, Saul does indeed lose the battle, and, after being wounded, and knowing he is doomed by God’s wrath, he commits suicide. Saul had previously persecuted and hounded out of Israel all the witches and necromancers as wicked blasphemers. This woman and all her friends and family may very well have suffered great personal hardship as a direct result of the man who, in a hypocritical volte face, wants her to give his confidence a much-needed boost. She probably hates him like poison! Assuming she’s faking it, is she more likely to tell him what he wants to hear, as fake mediums nearly always do, or the exact opposite? The result of a successful Philistine invasion could very well have been the re-legalization of her own religion, and the obliteration of Saul’s. She has everything to gain by undermining his already shaky confidence! For a recent example of Spiritualist communications with famous dead people that was more persuasive than most, consider the career of the late Rosemary Brown.  For an older, quirkier example perhaps more in keeping with your blog, here’s a letter to the New York Times detailing an obscure medium’s transmission of the posthumous prophecies of the recently deceased Napoleon Bonaparte.  Second, is Alan commenting on two lines: “even if seances did not kick up famous people they kicked up eccentric spirits: where are the boring of the earth”. Actually Beach there’re at least two metaphysical explanations for this phenomenon. The first goes back at least as far as the Ancient Egyptians and almost certainly the Sumerians which is the idea what we take to be our singular selves’re composed of often numerous different elements the bare minimum division being between the spirit and the soul. According to this idea then the divine animatory principle the spirit buggers back off home to its source God Heaven baby Jesus the Sun whatever and the soul as the repository of our life history and our experiences ie our memories hangs around until it gradually fades out of existence.  This’s one of the purposes behind ancestor worship supposedly to give the soul the means to sustain and renew itself.  And this’s where seances come in as they’re the direct descendant of ancestor worship.  They are as it were Big Mac drive-ins for spooks to get itty-titty bits of attention to keep them going.  The only way they can get that attention though is by claiming to be someone famous or to have an interesting history.  If you’re boring piss off! A less bleak take though’s what we tend to take for ourselves is really only a sort of security pass/profile we first acquire when our parents said “You Beachy” or “You Alan” constantly updated thereafter as we grow up (in your case at least…probably). And when we die apparently some of us don’t want to let go of that pass/profile especially those who were treated as if they were special or famous or powerful or inordinately rich or in some other way above the herd i.e. exactly the sort of dead persons seemingly hanging round at seances.’ KB rounds off with this thought: ‘Lately there has been a television show in the US called “Celebrity Ghost Stories.” It is a bit of a twist, for instead of spirits of celebrated figures of the past appearing to ordinary people, in this series, spirits of rather ordinary people appear to celebrities!’ Thanks to the Count, Alan and KB!

    Closed Door Erotica: Ricardo wrote, One of the poets I love most, E.E. Cummings,  or  if you allow me to be so bold. Invisible sends in these exquisite Japanese poems of the Heian period written by women: My longing for you—/ Too strong to keep within bounds./At least no one can blame me when I go to you at night/Along the road of dreams.* Like a ripple that chases the the slightest caress of the breeze—/ Is that how you want me to follow you?* Lying alone,/ My black hair tangled,/ Uncombed./ I long for the one/ Who touched it first.* Why haven’t I thought of it before?/ This body,/ Remembering yours,/ Is the keepsake you left.* Even if I now saw you only once,/ I would long for you/ Through worlds,/ Worlds*. Thanks Ricardo and Invisible!!

    Baal survivals: Pineybelt writes, ‘Many examples of vestiges of human sacrifice at sun festivals in Europe in the 17th,18th and 19th centuries are described in Sir James George Frazer’s “Balder The Beautiful”, which is available online. In fact, the example set out in your blog entry is described there, although it may have occurred in another locale.’ This conclusion about Baal  in Britain may be mistaken. Not that children were not offered as burnt sacrifices to Baal, but “passing through the fire” had another meaning. It was the practice of the Israelites to purify their booty or spoil from battle or war by cleansing what could withstand fire by passing it through the fire. Otherwise the practice was to cleanse with water. Also, Britain does have some Semitic influence due to the tin mines in Cornwall worked by Semitics. Also, there is a theory that the ancient Picts were Semitic. Those who wish to disprove this can provide the appropriate links. There is no end to discriminating between gods.’ Thanks Pineybelt and KMH

    Brownies out: Southern Man considers: I think this picture is genuine but misunderstood. I just can’t believe those are German soldiers running at the British. I think you would see the Tommy marksmen in tenser positions and perhaps signs of smoke. Isn’t it more likely that we are seeing here is a British withdrawal or a British repositioning and the Germans are actually British troops moving back?’ Beach has to admit that these are striking arguments. Any other thoughts? Wade writes ‘I’m no expert on this at all, but war photography has been something of an interest for me. Maybe it was all those WWII Holywood movies that I grew up watching on TV in the 50s and 60s. I think many, if not most, of the American Civil War photographs were staged to some degree. Not sure about WWI. But I do know that US combat photographers in WWII were just that; professionals recording combat at the front. Surely there were images that were staged even then. (The recreation of the flag raising on Iwo Jima and Gen. McArthur wading ashore in the Phillipines come to mind), but I believe the US military has a huge archive of non-staged WWII combat photography. I’ve read that some of the photos, whether in action or just after, were never shown to the public because they were too graphic and intense. Also, I remember reading that the there was a difference between photographs released from the Pacific Theater and the European Theater, and this was attributed to racial war propaganda that the Japanese were inhuman, so gruesome pictures of their war dead were allowed.’ Thanks Wade and SM!

    Goblin: Invisible points out there is something of a tradition here from Africa: Zimbabwe witches, Goblins and a girl, goblins burn house… Invisible continues ‘I think there is a winged goblin that rapes men in their sleep–but it is from Tanzania–called a Popobawa. Thanks!

    Scared to death:  KMH ‘In the past the phrase “scared to death” was thought to be impossible. Now it is taken more seriously as illustrated in this Scientic American article We all know that hypnotic suggestion can induce people to do strange things, perhaps  even die in a specified way, as your newsletter would imply.’ Thanks KMH!

    Major Fraser: Mike Zak makes the simple but appealing point that Fraser may have been a spy. The Count looks for a paranormal explanation: General George S. Patton sincerely and unashamedly believed in reincarnation, and also believed that in his entire back catalogue of previous lives he had been a soldier – not necessarily a famous or important one, though he did think it highly probable that he had once been Hannibal. And to be fair, if one of the greatest generals in history claims to have lived before as another of the greatest generals in history, you can’t refute his belief-system on logical grounds alone, can you? Incidentally, offhand I can’t think of anybody else who claimed to be the reincarnation of a famous person with a very particular talent who demonstrably had that same talent.’ And KMH moves along similar tracks: ‘The Major may have been dimly aware of past incarnations, some of which may have been artificially added to give more weight to his present one (this is one reason why reincarnation is such a complex subject).  General George Patton also had these types of memories. The Germans thought he should have been incarnated on the German side. But then I think Rommel would have been happier on the Allied side.’ Thanks KMH, Count and Mike Zak

    Parrots: Leandro writes ‘I was looking exactly how much faith I could put on Crystal’s story (I read it in a different book, “A little book of language”) about Von Humboldt and the parrot, and I found your post. I could add a new little turn of this screw. In the last texts you copied the Atures are said to be almost extinct, while the Maipure were alive. If Von Humboldt’s parrot spoke Ature, it means it spoke Piaroa, a language still today spoken by the Piaroa tribe, formerly known as the Ature or Adole. So if Von Humboldt really took notes on what the parrot sounded like, what Rachel Berwick taught her parrots is a language that today is spoken by thousands of people in Venezuela, certainly not Maipure. But it seems to be implied in that text extract you copied that Von Humboldt never had contact with the parrot, so he hardly could had taken notes on what it spoke like. So my question is how did Rachel Berwick teach the parrots how to speak “Maipure” using the “bird’s vocabulary” “phonetically recorded” by Von Humboldt? What’s the source of that? Did she use Gilij’s account, despite saying she based Von Humboldt’s? Or the parrots talk is also made up?’ Thanks Leandro!

    Hairies: Dr Turkey writes: I don’t think this is what you’re looking for but your description of the ‘hairies’ brought back memories from medical school.  Have you ever heard of hypertrichosis? The Wikipedia page is a rough, but not too bad summary. I wonder if these could perhaps be the hairies? A rare condition, to be sure, but one that’s been around a while…’ Ozzie in Honolulu writes: I think one of the nicest summaries of hairy types is Ivan T Sanderson’s Abominable Snowman: Legend Come to Life.  For the most part Sanderson was in his biologist/collector mode, rather than his “weird shit” mode, and he does a nice job of breaking the hairies down by geographical area and ecologic zone.  The book was long out of print, but is now available Amazon.  Do be careful if you buy the Adventures Unlimited edition, since they are definitely into the above mentioned WS and have made some (fortunately minor) additions and changes.  It’s available as well as in an electronic form which seems to be the original 1961 Chilton edition.  Keep in mind that it was originally published in 1950, so is out of date on some points.  It’s still the best overview in my opinion. KMH, meanwhile, has this to say: The hairiness of the human race has diminished substantially over the last 40 to 50 thousand years, more quickly than natural selection can account for. It turns out that hair isn’t useful for activities not performed by animals, or for promoting human society. As a global species, we are much better off with clothing than with hair, but we don’t possess the original level of animal integrity. The naturism or nudism movement is definitely degenerative The more any specimen departs in appearance from the human race, the less likely it originated with the human race. Just as important, perhaps even more, is the spiritual origin. The more the behaviour of any  specimen differs from true human behaviour, the less human it actually is, regardless of appearances. This makes complex world of man-like creatures, normal or paranormal, difficult  to comprehend without spending much time with them. Then we have the Count in one of his inimitable mails: ‘You say that you know very little about cryptozoolgy, but you could do worse than look into it. Almost all of it is complete BS – the number of hairy hominids supposedly dwelling throughout most of the world makes their non-acceptance by science equivalent to, and actually worse than totally failing to accept the existence of any member of the cat family other than the domestic variety because somehow nobody has ever killed or captured a lion or tiger. It should also be noted that Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame wrote a very obscure BBC series proposing that the Yeti has escaped detection thus far because it has extraordinary telepathic abilities. This was made into an equally obscure Hammer film starring Peter Cushing, and was parodied as a downright surreal episode of The Goon Show (of which I have a copy – I’ll transmit it to you if desired – is m4a an acceptable format or would you prefer mp3?). The thing is, this concept has actually entered Yeti and Bigfoot folklore because it neatly explains why nobody can trap or shoot one, although everybody has by now forgotten its fictional origin. Oh, by the way, Tibetans believe in several different species of Himalayan ape-creature. Your classic Yeti is basically a gorilla – a huge but essentially benign beast. The Mi-go, on the other hand, are smaller but much nastier (they’re the ones whose name translates very loosely as “abominable snowman”) – absolutely identical to your malign monkey-men, in fact. Did you know that the actor James Stewart smuggled a sacred mummified Yeti paw out of Tibet in his underpants? Seriously! Unfortunately he wasn’t wearing them at the time. And even more unfortunately it turned out to be nothing more than a very old human hand. But hey, I thought you’d enjoy a Jimmy Stewart Yeti connection. Sadly Marilyn Monroe didn’t as far as we know have an affair with Nessie – JFK was as mythical as she ever got.’ Thanks Doc and Ozzie and the Count.

    Early Conjuring: Penne writes, Here’s a reference to conjuring in1537, courtesy Chamber’s Book of Days:  It’s attributed to ‘Lindsay’ a contemporary Scots writer, hopefully accessible online. Invisible writes ‘I’m partial to stories of fake moving/bleeding/weeping images exposed as pious conjuring tricks. One of the best-known of these was the Holy Rood of Boxley Abbey. Here is the tale of the origin of the Rood as told by William Lambarde, in Perambulation of Kent, 1570: The ungratious Roode of Grace It chaunced (as the tale is) that upon a time, a cunning Carpenter of our countrie was taken prisoner in the warres betweene us and Fraunce, who (wanting otherwise to satisfie for his raunsome, and having good leisure to devise for his deliveruance) thought it best to attempt some curious enterprise, within the compasse of his owne Art and skill, to make himself some money withal: And therefore, getting together fit matter for his purpose, he compated of wood, wyer, paste and paper, a Roode of such exquisite arte and excellencie, that it not onely matched in comelynesse and due proportion of the partes the best of the common sort: but in straunge motion, variety of gesture, and nimbleness of ioints, passed al other that before had been seene: the same being able to bow down and life up it selfe, to shake and stirre the hands and feete, to nod the head, to rolle the eies, to wag the chaps, to bende the browes, and finally to represent to the eie, both the proper motion of each member of the body, and also a lively, expresse, and significant shew of a well contented or displeased minde: byting the lippe, and gathering a frowning, forward, and disdainful face, when it would pretend offence: and shewing a most milde, amiable, and smyling cheere and countenaunce when it woulde seeme to be well pleased. So that now it needed not Prometheus fire to make it a lively man, but onely the helpe of the covetous Priestes of Bell, or the aide of some craftie College of Monkes, to deifie and make it passé for a verie God. This done, he made shifte for his libertie, came over into the Realme, of purpose to utter his merchandize, and laide the Image upon the backe of a Iade that he drave before him.  Now, when hee was come so farre as to Rochester on his way, hee waxed drie by reason of travaile, and called at an alehouse for ddrinke to refreshe him, suffering his horse neverthelesse to go forwarde alone along the Citie. This Iade was no sooner out of sight, but hee missed the straight westerne way that his Maister intended to have gone, and turning Southe, made a great pace toward Boxley, and being driven (as it were) by some divine furie, never ceased iogging till he came at the Abbay church doore, where he so beat and bounced with his heeles, that divers of the Monkes heard the noise, came to the place to knowe the cause, and (marveling at the straungenesse of the thing) called the Abbat and his Covent to behode it. These good men seeing the horse so earnest and discerning what he had on his backe, for doubt of deadly impietie opened the doore: which they had no sooner done, but the horse rushed in, and ran in great haste to a piller (which was the verie place where this Image was afterward advaunced) and there stopped himself, and stoode still. Now while the Monkes were busie to take off the lode, in commeth the Carpetner (that by great inquisition had followed) and he challenged his owne: the Monkes, loth to loose to beneficiall a stray, at the first made some denial, but afterward, being assured by all signes that he was the verie Proprieetarie, they graunt him to take it with him. The Carpenter then taketh the horse by the head, and first assayeth to leade him out of the Church, but he would not stirre for him: Then beateth hee and striketh him, but the Iade was so restie and fast nailed, that he woulde not once remove his foote from the piller: at the last he taketh off the Image, thinking to have carried it out by it selfe, and then to have led the horse after: but that also cleaved so fast to the place, that nothwithstanding all that ever he (and the Monks alos, which at the length were contented for pities sake to helpe him) coulde doe, it would not be moved one inche from it: So that in the ende, partly from wearinesse in wrestling, and partly by persuasion of the Monkes, which were in love iwht the Picture, and made him believe that it was by God himself destinate to their house, the Carpenter was contented for a peece of money to go his way, and leave the Roode behinde him. Thus you see the generation of this the great God of Boxley, comparable (I warrant you) to the creation of that beastly Idoll Priapus, of which the Poet saith, Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum, Cum faber incertus Scamnum Faceretne Priapum, Maluit Esse Deum: Deus inde ego furum, &c.A Figtree blocke sometime I was, A log unmeete for use: Till Carver doubting with himself, Wert Best make Priapus, Or else a benche? Resolvd at last To make a God of mee: Thencefoorth a God I am, of birdes And theeves most drad, you see. But what? I shall not neede to reporte, howe lewdly these Monkes, to their own enriching and the spoile of Gods people, abused this wooden God after they had thus otten him, because a good sort be yet on live that sawe the fraude openly detected at Paules Crosse and others may reade it disclosed in books [Lambarde continues with the story of the statue of St. Rumbold at Boxley, which I am too lazy to transcribe. It is paraphrased below in a quote from The Pilgrims’ Way, John Adair, p. 59.] Tradition related that this sacred object [Boxley Abbey’s Holy Rood of Grace] had arrived one day at the monastery on the back of a stray packhorse. “The figure of Christ on the cross concealed a clockwork mechanism and a mesh of wires which enabled the face to assume different expressions, the eyes to roll and weep, the mouth to move, the hands to life in blessing and the head to bow in sorrow. It was an extraordinary visual aid for men and women who longed to see the living Christ. Like other statues, for example a Kentish figure burnt at Smithfield in 1538 which bowed to receive the prayers of pilgrims, the Boxley Rood belonged to a growing category of such unauthorized popular images. But bishops, despite some disgust, in general looked the other way, and even on occasion defended them against theiconoclastic criticisms of the Lollards. Archbishop Warham could inform Cardinal Wolsey on the eve of the Reformation that Boxley was “so holy a place where so many miracles are showed.”  St Rumbold, the son of a Northumbrian king, died when he was three days old but not before reciting the Paternoster and Apostles’ Creed, a feat which led to him being declared a saint. The small statue of St. Rumbold at Boxley could be moved by a child or else prove so heavy that a strong man tugged in vain. In particular girls or women who had lost their chastity could not budge it, and thereby disqualified themselves from kneeling before the Holy Rood of Grace. Those doubtful of their state would make their confession for a fee and then give a generous offering to the attendant priest who—according to later Protestant writers—merely slipped a wooden retaining pin out of a hidden supporting pillar. Thus it moved more laughter than devotion, declared the early 17th century divine Thomas Fuller and many chaste virgins and wives went away with blushing faces.” There was also the Holy Rood of Bromhelme/Bromholm, which was said to be found at the Dissolution to be a rotten wooden puppet full of wires and sticks, but I am having difficulty finding anything more about the deception–although there are loads of videos online of the folk ballad about the True Cross relic contained in the rood. If you have access: this on JSTOR  may shed more light. [There is a book by William A. Christian called Moving Crucifixes in Modern Spain, but it is about spirituality and miracles, not fraudulent animated roods. The Amazon blurb reads: Why are religious visions believed only in certain times and places? In this book William Christian investigates the settings and responses to a series of group visions reported by Spaniards in rural Galicia, Valencia, Cantabria and Navarre in the early part of this century – the most notable one involving the crucifix at Limpia. I think some elements of conjuring must be going on here also, although the ever-popular “mass hysteria” might also cover it.] There is also the statue of St. James the Great at the Monasterio de las Huelgas Reales in Burgos, where kings of Castile were crowned.  This is also where knighthoods were conferred, not by a person, but by St. James himself, whose  statue with an articulated arm holding a sword can still be seen here. It is a moot point how much this was merely a symbolic gesture using the statue as opposed to a belief that the statue was actually moving by itself. I wonder how much information histories of puppetry might yield about these kinds of illusions? And perhaps the most famous pious conjuring trick of all, the “Blood Miracle”–the liquification of the blood of St. Januarius. Epstein, Michael; Luigi Garlaschelli (1992). “Better Blood Through Chemistry: A Laboratory Replication of a Miracle”. Journal of Scientific Exploration 6: 233–246. http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_06_3_epstein.pdf I’m sure someone has also discussed miracles in the Old Testament, Egyptian priests turning rods into snakes, levitating Greek statues, steam-operated sanctuary accessories, etc. etc. None of which helps with your history of early conjuring question! I suppose it is impious to suggest that the Mass itself from which we supposedly derive the conjuring formula “Hocus Pocus” is a feat with the trappings of legerdemain?  I believe that turning water into wine also was for many years a standard of the magician’s repertoire. I was startled to find on many Christian web sites statements that some modern illusionists (like David Blaine) are not performing illusions, but real magic assisted by demons!’ Wade meanwhile, sends some ancient links in: Graeco-Roman magic survey:  Magic, witchcraft and ghosts in the Roman World. Demonology during the late pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods in Egypt  Short link on Roman witches:    Jewish magic in the roman bathhouse. Thanks to Wade, Invisible and Penne!!!!


    Cow curer: Kate writes: Many years ago in college, I minored in Folklore. Ah, the benefits of a liberal education where I was actually encouraged to curl up with a book and while away the semester… There is a passage in the New Testament where a woman is too afraid to speak to Jesus, but her illness is healed when she touches the hem of his garment. He notices the power leaving his body and addresses her. Luke 8 40-48. The cure works, but there is a price to pay. If you believe that one can be a sin eater and take on another’s sins, why not feel exhausted when you have cured someone’s cow? It is work just as much as plowing the fields or baking bread.’ Thanks Kate!

    Thomas Digges: I (Beach) have excerpted this material from an online list supplied by Larry (to whom thanks as always). Peter D. Usher: Another piece of solid research that should not be overlooked is Michael Gainer’s: “Construction of a 16th-Century Telescope: An Experiment in the History of Astronomy” (Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Vol 103, No.1, 18-21, 2009). The experiment comprised constructing a telescope using optical components, materials, and methods available in the mid-16th century, following Digges’ descriptions. Gainer concludes that lunar craters, phases of Venus and a ring of Saturn would have been observable. Schechner, Sara ‘The discussions on this list of predecessors to the Dutch telescope have become speculative and ungrounded in historical documentation. And yet, since the recent 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope, a lot of solid research has been published about possible predecessors.  For those interested in this topic, I recommend the following: Sven Duprïœ, “William Bourne’s invention.  Projecting a telescope and optical speculation in Elizabethan England,” in Origins of the Telescope, ed. By Albert van Helden et al. (Amsterdam:  KNAW Press, 2010). He cites many primary and secondary works relevant to this topic.  Also see the rest of this volume. Eileen Reeves, _Galileo’s Glassworks:  The Telescope and the Mirror_(Cambridge:  Harvard Univ. Press, 2008). She looks at the long cultural history of claims of optical devices to see things far off.  There is a lot of good material here, although I think she makes the mistake of presuming all “mirrors that show things far away” to be telescopic instruments rather than divination instruments used for scrying. Other works include: Alison D. Morrison-Low, et al., eds., _From Earth-Bound to Satellite: Telescopes, Skills and Networks_, Scientific Instruments and Collections, 2 (Leiden: Brill, 2012). Giorgio Strano, ed., _Galileo’s Telescope_ (Florence:  Giunti, 2008). The bottom line:  The so-called 16th century telescopes were projects that were never carried out, or could not have worked as claimed due to craftsmanship, technological, and optical theory problems that were not resolved until much later. Sara . Thanks to Larry for allowing this!

    Cavalry Charge: Alma from Jordan writes, read your research article about the Last Cavalry Battle, posted June 16, 2010. I found it on Google, as I was trying to find out about some mention of a WWII cavalry event made by Col. Kurd Albrecht von Ziegner, many years ago when he was my guest.  Col. von Ziegner is a noted author on equestrian training, having written 3 excellent books. At the time I met him he was well into his 80’s but as vigorous and spry as one could imagine. He was recalling his early days of how young German cavalry cadets were trained and the rigors they went through.  And because the saber was the weapon of choice, often the tips of horses’ right ears were missing—a slip of the blade!  In explaining his good use of the English language, he related how he was captured by the Americans either in Austria,Eastern Germany or Poland, and the ritual of preparing for their last battle. At the time when they were told to set their sabers in a circle on the ground, without sharpening them, they thought it odd, and later the riders realized that the officers had made their decision to surrender rather than be part of a massacre.   It may have been that they preferred surrender to the Americans rather than be captured by the Russians. Such a fate would mean almost certain internment in Russian slave camps, or death. However, it was known that the Americans were more ‘civil’ with the POWs. He found himself in a base (he said Switzerland, but Switzerland was neutral, so it could have been Italy?) and acting as a groom for the polo playing “cowboys” in the Army.  So his story goes on, that he was watching one of the “Yanks” trying to jump one of the mounts, and was getting refusal after refusal.  Kurd said something to the American, who retorted, not knowing he was talking to a former German cavalryman, “so you think you can do better?” and Kurd “showed” him.  From groom he was immediately advance to trainer– and so the story goes.  Now, I am not 100% sure of this story, but it sure does make sense.  One might say this was a charge not made? I’d like to know more. I am also suspecting after doing more Googling that it was not Switzerland, but maybe France where he was sent? As a result of further searching I did find this information through Google under Horses in War—Germany. In February 1945 German and Hungarian cavalry divisions were thrown into the Lake Balaton offensive; after a limited success, German forces were ground down by Soviet counteroffensive. Remnants of Army cavalry fell back into Austria; 22 thousand men surrendered to Western allies, bringing with them 16 thousand horses.  Remnants of SS cavalry, merged into the 37rd SS Division, followed the same route.   And, I think–my memory might be a bit enhanced here, that these retreating forces were ‘hightailing” it west to avoid capture by the Russians. Thanks to Alma!

    Pretexts for War: Tacitus from Detritus writes, ‘I must mention, though I shall doubtless be but one voice in the chorus, The War of Jenkins’ Ear!’ Ricardo recalls the Football War. Wade points out that Wikipedia has an entire entry on false flag operations. He also sends in this pretext happy site:  Thanks Tacitus, Wade and Ricardo!

    Faulty Geography: The great Mike Dash writes in with his solution, surely the correct one, to the Bolivia incident and Queen Victoria. Thanks Mike!

    Hairy Trolls: Larry writes ‘Having recently read of that 1974 case in England of a family having an interrupted journey, I must regale you with a tale from 1955 that took place in Kentucky. As you can read here, the moral of the story is, if you are an alien, even one with claws, do NOT land where lots of rednecks live! As you have encountered many times, stories like this border on the edge of rejection and wait a minute.  Most UFO stories are mistaken identities of natural or terrestrial objects or hoaxes or delusions, but there are a few that cannot be easily dismissed.  I just wish a few scientists could investigate them without having their professional reputations besmerched.’ Thanks Larry!!!

    Escape in Drag: Invisible sent this one in. A brilliant drag escape act. ‘Dwight Worker was thrown into a Mexican prison because of drugs. He got out, however, because of drag. Worker, an American, was arrested in Mexico City in 1973 after attempting to smuggle cocaine back to the United States, and was sentenced to five years at Lecumberri Prison for drug possession. The facility, known infamously as “The Black Palace of Mexico,” is so tough that the only known escapee was Pancho Villa. Worker beat the odds though, and two years later he escaped, not with a machine gun and bandolier, but with lipstick and a skirt. The story of how he dragged himself out of a terrible situation by dressing in drag is the subject of an episode of “Locked Up Abroad,” premiering May 23 on the National Geographic Channel…. “I cried uncontrollably after seeing the episode,” Worker told The Huffington Post. “I didn’t want to have a reaction, but I was tortured, electroshocked and stabbed four times while there.” But what seemed impossible — escaping — happened because of another improbable event: falling in love while in prison. Worker fell for Barbara White, a fellow American visiting a different prisoner at Lecumberri, and the two started planning a life together — outside of prison. Their plan required him to shave his face, wear a wig and makeup, dress in women’s clothes smuggled in by White, and then sneak out using forged passes that made him seem like one of the prisoners’ female visitors. Not only did the plan have a high risk of failure, since he had to fool guards who saw him every day, but Worker said if he hadn’t pulled off the escape, the consequences would have been dire. “It’s not illegal to escape from a prison in Mexico, unless you cause damage to the state or to a person,” Worker said. “However, it was foolish, because if the guards had captured me, they would have … how do I put this? Treated me as if I was a woman before killing me.” While Worker did trip a bit in the high heels, he was able to get out of the prison and catch a taxi to a predesignated meeting spot with White where he got out of his female garb. Worker caught a bus and train to the border in Tucson, Ariz., and finally back home to Indiana.’ thanks to Invisible!

    Byrd: John McNulty fromUncertain Times writes in: I have done a considerable amount of reading on Nazi UFOs, underground bases and weird Antarctica lore. Going back to my notes, I find that Farrell did mention, in a radio interview I heard on his book The SS Brotherhood of the Bell (2008), that he thought the stories of Nazi UFOs and the Antarctic underground bases were fabrications of the neo-Nazis. Later, he seems to have changed his mind, at least in part, as evidenced in the previous links I sent. Nuff said on that. However, for your future research on the Nazi Antarctic exploits, you might find this interesting and this too   This supposed Nazi documentary might be complete baloney, but it seems to have become part of the Neuschwabenland canon, for what it’s worth. And some lagniappe: a couple of years ago, I posted a short introduction to the topic of Die Glocke, which you might find to be an interesting piece of strange history:    The link below leads to what could be the most comprehensive work on Nazi Antarctic myth and legend.  I’m not really sure what to make of it, but it is worth a look. Below is one of the most circulated texts in the UFO/conspiracy theory community: then from Joseph Farrells blog. Thanks John!!

    Headless horsemen: Kath writes: I don’t know about real examples, but the Dorothy Sayers story “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention” (from the short story collection Lord Peter Views the Body) features someone playing on local superstitions of phantom carriages to cover his tracks – using the luminous-paint and padded-hooves techniques your folklorist mentions.Wade writes ‘This post brought back memories of Patrick McGoohan as Walt Disney’s Dr. Syn in The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. He wasn’t headless but still cut a fearsome, preternatural figure on his white horse. Apparently, Disney thought Syn was a real person, unless that was given out for promotional reasons. I remember smuggling is involved in the story and the supernatural aspect fits well with your suggestion of crime and headless fakery.  According to this link    there was a real Dr. Christopher Syn, Rector of Saint Peter and Paul, Dymchurch in Romney Marsh in 1775.’ Thanks Kath and Wade!

    Church Sprite: The Count writes I was very interested to read about the church sprite. Since in all Christian countries, every supernatural being not clearly identifiable as an angel is at best a semi-fallen angel, and more usually an actual demon, they tend to be physically incapable of entering churches, and certainly wouldn’t live in one on purpose! I suspect the answer is that the further east you go in Europe, the later people converted to Christianity, so folk beliefs were more firmly entrenched in the not-too-distant past. I would guess that your best bet for tales of surprisingly devout pixies being uneasily incorporated into Christianity would be Russia, especially Siberia, and also Iceland.Islamic church sprites? Well, we’ve already covered that topic, haven’t we? One huge difference between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity was actually a form of Judaism which happened to be far more popular with people who weren’t Jews, therefore it had to cover a lot of local belief-systems that weren’t mentioned in the Bible, meaning that they pretty much had to be lumped together as illusions caused by the Devil. Islam, on the other hand, was tailored to fit its home turf, so the many different species of djinn that the locals took extremely seriously were at the same time more or less irrelevant and not completely evil, thus exceptionally good djinn could become Muslims. Thus leaving out bread and milk for the djinn (or whatever it is you do) wasn’t sinful, which is a good rule to have if lots of Muslims are going to do that just in case and then worry about it offending Allah. As already mentioned, the solution reached by Christians, though unofficial, was almost identical.  And as a previous correspondent mentioned, there’s at least one mosque dedicated to the djinn. I’d be interested to know if they actually hold services where the presence of the congregation has to be taken on trust.Synagogue sprites? That I very much doubt! Judaism laid down very strict rules a very long time ago, and is so monotheistic that there simply isn’t room for such beings. You might find tales of malicious creatures – probably dybbuks – creeping into the synagogue and causing all sorts of trouble until coped with by a heroically holy rabbi, but nice dybbuks who care about the state the roof’s in? I’d be extremely surprised! I suppose an angel might care about such things, but it seems a little undignified. In that department, I’m afraid the Jews are entirely on their own and will just have to buy a new roof, barring divine intervention. Though actually a live-in roof angel that blows the place up if you don’t repair it soon enough isn’t really very helpful, and probably less cost-effective than having the builders in. Of course, in the Far East, where such beings are a part of everyday life, the usual solution to this kind of problem is to build a replica of the haunted building very close to the original and politely ask the imp to move. Since non-corporeal beings live by different rules, it will be perfectly happy with a house, or indeed a church, much, much smaller than anything a human would find useful. It can then be bribed to behave itself with periodic gifts of whatever it is these creatures are supposed to like. Mostly beer and sweeties, apparently. Since building a tiny symbolic church three feet high is a lot easier than somehow arranging for there to be a brand new full-sized one that doesn’t currently have a sprite, if this was, or possibly still is, a common belief in Sweden, you may very well be able to find cases in which the Swedes re-housed sprites in tiny pretend churches. People are pretty much the same everywhere, and quite likely to come up with the same logical solution to this wildly illogical problem.’’ A little research into why Swedish fairies are able to live in churches reveals some interesting conclusions. The predominant and most humanoid of the various races of Swedish fairies, the huldre, were apparently the children of Adam’s first wife Lilith. They were therefore not only more or less human, and thus capable of being Christians, but, since Original Sin was brought about by Eve, were actually less sinful than humans, and therefore only had to read the Old Testament, being insufficiently in need of salvation to require the New one as well. So we have a branch of “The good folk” who were actually morally superior to humans, and also pretty much identical to them, apart from living underground and having magical powers.  I suggest that this could be a distorted memory of a time when Sweden was still in the process of converting to Christianity. Communities of pagans, while having to make themselves more and more inconspicuous, might well have made some of the less hard-line Christians secretly a bit jealous, because by living according to a less restrictive set of rules and not obsessing about sin and wickedness the whole time, they could well have seemed happier, nicer, and less sinful than Christians. But at the same time, the priests would have been constantly reminding everyone that these people were different and sinister and probably had ghastly Satanic powers. Throw those two ideas together and you’ve got a pretty good description of the huldre, who are human yet different, sinister yet benign, don’t need to read the BIble, or at any rate not all of it, because they’re better than us, and could not implausibly live in a church. Of course, in places like Britain, this all took place a lot earlier, so nobody remembered nice pagans (assuming that British pagans were nice – according to Julius Caesar, the Druids weren’t very pleasant at all), and our fairies were not supposed to be even partially human, let alone superior to normal humans.’ Thanks Count!!