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  • Swiss Zulus June 14, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Zulus Charging

    ‘Never invade Russia in November’, ‘never start a land war in Asia’ and ‘don’t ever but ever bring a sword to a gun fight’. That last point might be self evident. However, because of the technological gap between different cultures in the post medieval period, all too often courageous men with spears and blades found themselves charging men with muskets and then rifles in defence of their homelands. Zulus, Mohicans, Maoris would run out of cover and be brought down by invisible arms. Understandably their leaders and their religious mentors sought solutions. They employed magic and charms to keep the bullets off their braves: quite reasonably given that these bullets were, according to their world view, magical in turn. There are lots of instances of these beliefs from Africa, from Asia and from the Americas in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But what is remarkable about this particular instance is that it appeared in mid-nineteenth-century Switzerland, one of the wealthiest and most advanced nations in the world at this date. We are, for the record in French-speaking Switzerland and the priests are, in 1847, damning the Federal Government from their pulpits: the ‘Separate Alliance’ (the Swiss CSA) has been founded and the Sonderbund War has begun, though this being civilised Switzerland fewer than a hundred will die in hostilities (not Beach hastens to add because of the Madonna, see below). An English correspondent writes.

    I have seen some curious little brass amulets, with the effigy of the Virgin on one side and the Cross on the other, which were sold in great numbers to the people as charms against all possible injuries in battle. Those sold at seven and ten batzen… were efficacious against musket and carbine balls; those at 20 batzen… were proof against canon-shot also! The purchasers of these medals were also presented with a card, of which the following is a verbatim transcript, capitals, italics, and all…

    O Mary! Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. Any one carrying a miraculous medal, who recites with piety the above invocation becomes placed under the especial protection of the Mother of God. This is a promise made by Mary herself.

    Of course, even today soldiers carry good luck charms, pictures of sweethearts, a pressed flower from a beloved garden, a picture of a fairy flag… But this all seems more systematic and, well, more Zulu than other chance and personal instances.

    The case of one victim of misplaced confidence… has been related to me on good authority. One of the Landsturm was pursued and challenged to surrender; he refused, took to flight, and was wounded successively by four shots, when he sank under his wounds. Upon being captured, he declared, that having a medal, had he thought it possible the bullets could have touched him, he would have surrendered at once. I understand he is since dead.

    Upon a like principle – or want of principle – the landsturm and soldiers were invited to bring their arms to the churches to be blessed; for which fees of five or ten francs were charged. Whole piles of arms received benediction in this manner, and were then declared to be sure of hitting.

    Of course, this last instance is much easier to parallel: bishops blessing battleships etc. Any other examples of ‘Zulu’ magic in gun-carrying nations: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    21/June/2013: Ruththeunstoppablycurious and Fred point out the Boxer rising in China with their bullet proof amulets. Thanks Ruth and Fred.